Thursday, May 29, 2014

And Still I Rise

One of the rare times I can say I was there when Maya Angelou addressed a huge congregation at a Dallas Baptist Church in 1994.  I had come with my sister and we stood in the rear of the church as Ms. Angelou addressed a multitude of adoring fans.  She read her poem "Phenomenal Woman," which had loosely served as the inspiration for a movie, Poetic Justice, the year before.  Needless to say, she was much more convincing than Janet Jackson.

Ms. Angelou spoke with a deep, resonate voice that immediately seized your attention. She was an inspiration to a great many people because of her unwavering moral compass.  Whether in her poems or her stories or her searing memoirs, notably I Know Why the Caged Bird Sing, you always knew which way was North.

She not only endured the awful struggle of Jim Crow South, but she embraced the civil rights movements in Africa, marrying Vusumzi Make in Cairo in 1960.  He was once chairman of the Pan-African Congress, which was banned in his native country of South Africa.  Their marriage didn't last long (3 years), but Ms. Angelou stayed on in Africa with her son, Titise, teaching in Ghana, where she also continued her writing.

Her stature grew in the 70s and 80s when she returned to the United States and published a series of memoirs beginning with Caged Bird.  She split her energies in so many directions you would think it impossible to keep up with them all, but somehow she did.  Mostly, she sought to reach children, visiting Sesame Street among many other places.  Her signature book was made into a movie in 1979, starring Diahann Carrol, who had played a single working mother in the popular television show Julia.

In 1993, Ms. Angelou recited an original poem at the inauguration of Bill Clinton entitled On the Pulse of Morning.  She was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2010.

She remained tirelessly active throughout her life but sadly at 86, the years finally caught up to her.  Still, it is very hard to let her go.

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