Maya Angelou, who passed away May 28 at 86, was a transformational figure in the African-American community. She spoke with such carefree eloquence, yet her words resonated so strongly to not only African-Americans, but all of people of color, gender, religious and sexual orientation. From the ashes of Southern segregation, Miss Angelou rose to become a world-renowned renaissance woman who gave millions of people — through the generations — hope and inspiration. Angelou’s physical being may have left this world, but her legacy as an influential literary figure will forever stir the hearts of human kindness.
Born on April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Miss Angelou was first known to the world as Marguerite Johnson. Angelou was raised mostly by her grandmother in Stamps, Ark. At age 7 she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend, and when she testified against him, he was beaten to death, the story goes.
“I was 7 1/2 and my 7 1/2-year-old logic deduced that my voice had killed him. So I stopped speaking for almost six years,” she told Reuters in a 1999 interview.
From her tumultuous upbringing in the South to riding the cable cars of San Francisco to teaching the youth at the University of Ghana, Angelou lived a very active life and helped people along every step of her journeys. She befriended famous civil rights activists Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Their assassinations left her devastated and adrift, but she perservered. She bounced back by publishing her autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings in 1969. She went on to writesix other autobiographies, three essays books, numerous poems, and was involved in countless entertainment productions. Nothing was truly impossible for Miss Angelous. Nothing.
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