Celebrating Black History: Maya Angelou


Lauren Thomas

Maya Angelou rose to greatness and lived a remarkable life despite some of life’s hardships. On top of that, she constructed some of the best poetry and prose, landing her a myriad of accolades, three Grammy awards, the presidential medal of freedom, and a host of honorary degrees.

Despite everything thrown at her, Angelou always rose. At just 8 years old, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. After trial and being convicted, Angelou’s abuser was found beaten to death. Believing it was her fault, she silenced herself for nearly 5 years. She believed her voice had killed him. Angelou memorized poetry during her time of silence, reciting Shakespearean sonnets in her head. Angelou was able to speak again thanks to a teacher. She used literature and her love for it to recover from the trauma. Although, Angelou got pregnant at 16.

After school, she found work as San Francisco’s first African-American female cable car conductor and later worked in the sex trade as a calypso singer in order to support her family. Angelou was never ashamed of her past, in fact, she spoke honestly about it and walked in the truths of her past.

Later in life, Angelou joined the Harlem Writers Guild and with help from a friend and fellow author James Baldwin, went on to write ‘I know why the caged bird sings’ in 1969. Nearly a decade later, Angelou struck again with ‘And still I rise,’ a collection that remains one of her most popular works.

Angelou was also a civil rights activist, serving as the northern coordinator for Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian leadership conference, and working with Malcolm X to establish the organization of Afro-American Unity.