Maya Angelou

Black History Month Profile


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Maya Angelou was born  Marguerite Johnson on April 4, 1928. She was a woman of many, as she was an American author, actress, screenwriter, dancer, poet, and civil rights activist, but she best known for her memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which made literary history as the first non-fiction best-seller by an African American woman. Her writing has led her to many nominations such as two NAACP Image Awards and the Pulitzer Prize, but her life was not always based on her success.

Her life wasn’t so great, her parents divorced while she was young, so she was sent to live with her father in Arkansas, where she experienced racial prejudice and discrimination. The racial abuse wasn’t the worst thing she experienced, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend during a visit, thus causing her to become a virtual mute for years. Things started to change for her as she won a scholarship to the California Labor School for dancing and acting. At that same time, she became the first black woman to conduct a cable car, and she also had many jobs to support herself and her son.

During the mid-1950s, Angelou’s career took off. First, she started off acting by landing a role and begins touring with Porgy and Bess. She then appeared on an off-Broadway production of Calypso Heat Wave in 1957, then released her debut album, Miss Calypso. In 1973, Angelou has been nominated for a Tony Award for her role in Look Away and an Emmy Award for her work on a television miniseries, Roots.

When she wasn’t acting, mid-1960s Angelou was in Africa working as an editor and a freelance writer in Ghana. While she was there, she joined a community of “Revolutionist Returnees,” where she became close friends with human rights activists and black nationalist leader, Malcolm X. Both Angelou and X returned to the United States, to set up the organization of Afro-American Union (which disbanded a year later due to the assassination of Malcolm X). She became close friends with Martin Luther King Jr., a civil rights leader/activist, who was assassinated on her birthday (April 4, 1968), resulting in her not celebrating her birthday for a few years, but she sent flowers to King’s wife, Coretta Scott King’s windowsill until she died in the year of 2006.

Throughout her life, Angelou accomplished many things such as, publishing seven autobiographies, three books of essays, several books about poetry, and is credit in several plays, movies, and television shows until she died on May 28, 2014. Her life has been told through her many pieces of literature, acting, and songs. She left a mark on everyone including 44th president Barack Obama who wrote, “[Angelou] had the ability to remind us that we were all God’s children; that we all have something to offer.”