Recently Maya Angelou died. She was 86 years old. She was born on April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri. As a child she lived there and in Stamps, Arkansas. As a black child, she saw and experienced racial discrimination first hand. As a teenager she was awarded a scholarship to study dance and drama at San Francisco’s Labor School. At 14, she dropped out to become a cable car conductor. The first one San Francisco saw. She gave birth to her son a few weeks after earning her high school diploma.
Undaunted by her life experiences, she sought adventure. She toured Europe with a production of the opera “Porgy and Bess”. She studied modern with none other than Martha Graham. She danced on television variety shows, recorded an album titled “Calypso Lady,” joined the Harlem Writers Guild, and wrote and performed in such historic productions as “The Blacks” and “Cabaret for Freedom.”
She lived in Egypt and Ghana.
She knew several languages.
She worked for civil rights with Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King.
None other than James Baldwin encouraged her to write. And so she wrote “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”
If you are not feeling the loss by now of this brilliant woman, you have no soul. If you cannot see the fearlessness in her actions, you do not know courage. Please take a moment and look for her poems. Read them and let them sit in your mind.
Here is “Still I Rise”
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.