Last week Maya Angelou died at 86 years old. She had planted her flag in the fight for freedom, justice, and equality, and now she has gone on to rest. Her poetry about life and Black women has defined them as no other writer has. In her recent book, "Mom and Me and Mom", she tells her life story and spreads her wisdom as she always has with simple lessons of wisdom grown out of her life's experiences.
Her simplistic wisdom were words to live by, words like: "you can be a giver simply by bringing a smile to another person"; "you cannot have anything without working for it"; "the only way you can be taken advantage of is if you think you can get something for nothing."
She tells in her book the story of her not talking after she was raped, at thirteen, and the rapist was killed. The book says she stopped talking to everyone except Bailey, her older brother whom she depended on at an early age. It is noted that statistics say that 55 percent of girls suffer a rape during their lifetime and 25 percent suffer the rape at the hands of their partners.
The South was a dangerous place for Blacks when Angelou was a teenager. And so Bailey and Maya left Stamps, Arkansas when Bailey was fourteen. One reason was that a black boy had to step off a paved sidewalk, if there was a white person on it.
Her jobs were as varied as she was and provides a light into her world that would not be denied despite her color and position in life. While living in San Francisco as a teenager she was told by her mother that she needed to go to school or get a job. She chose to get a job as a conductor on the famous Streetcar. She went down to apply for a conductor's job and she discovered they didn't hire Blacks. When she went home and told her mother that they don't hire Negroes, her mother said, "If you want the job, go back and get it.
Each day she would go down to the office, take a lunch, and sit in the office everyday with the secretaries. When they went to lunch she went to lunch. She counts it as one of her more awkward experiences since she knew some of the white girls who worked there. She had gone to school with them and these girls would make faces at her as she sat in the offices, sometimes poking out their tongues and calling her racist names.
She endured this abuse for two weeks when finally a man invited her into his office. He asked her why she wanted a job with the railway. She said because she liked the uniform. He then asked her what experience she had. She lied and told him she had been a chauffeur in Stamps, Arkansas for Mrs. Annie Henderson. He didn't know that Mrs. Henderson was her grandmother who didn't even have a car.
She got the job and she was written up in the newspaper as the first Negro to drive for the railway. A man who worked for the railway went to the newspaper and told them he was the first Black working for the railway, but he was passing for white for twenty years. He was fired for lying to the railway.
Maya's work hours were at night, and because it was a dangerous shift, her mother get in her car and follow the street car with her gun the front seat. She was Maya's security guard and they both had jobs (Myra, driving the street car, and her mother protecting her).
Maya endured violence from men more than once, and she endured discrimination, but overcame it all with the love of her mother, her grandmother and her brother Bailey. She parlayed her dancing into a career of writing and show business from "Porgy and Bess" to "Roots" which changed her world.
Her poems including, "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings" and "Phenomenal Woman", describe Black womanhood like no other poem has ever done. Now she and her works belong to the ages and we shall never forget her.