“Maya Angelou taught all women that self-worth has nothing to do with what the world might say.
That was the power of Maya Angelou’s words, words so powerful they carried a little black girl from the south side of Chicago all the way to the White House. She touched me, she touched all of you, she touched people all across the globe, including a young white woman from Kansas who named her daughter after Maya and raised her son to be the first black president of the United States.” Barack Obama
Long before the term ‘intersectionality’ was coined to describe the interaction of racism and sexism, Maya Angelou navigated the minefield that is black men and rape in the same sentence. While black men were cloaked with the stigma of being assumed to be rapists she wrote and spoke lovingly. Regarding her own rape, Dr Angelou was able to point the finger at just the one man (age 7, by her mother’s boyfriend) , while still expressing her great love for the men in her community who loved, nurtured, and at times negated her.
Hers were healing words for men as well as women, and she would call those younger than her, ‘her children’. In Letter to My Daughter she wrote: “I gave birth to one child, a son, but I have thousands of daughters. You are Black and White, Jewish and Muslim, Asian, Spanish speaking, Native Americans and Aleut. You are fat and thin and pretty and plain, gay and straight, educated and unlettered, and I am speaking to you all. Here is my offering to you.”
“I have a son, who is my heart. A wonderful young man, daring and loving and strong and kind”
“The truth is, Martin Luther King was a human being with a brilliant mind, a powerful heart, and insight, and courage and also with a sense of humor. So he was accessible. Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtues consistently. You can’t be consistently kind or fair or humane or generous, not without courage, because if you don’t have it, sooner or later you will stop and say, “ugh, the threat is too much. The difficulty is too high. The challenge is too great. So I would like to say that Dr. King, while we know from all the publicity that he was brilliant, and he was powerful, and he was passionate and right, he was also a funny man, and that’s nice to know.”
Her iconic book ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ may never have happened if writer James Baldwin hadn’t persuaded Angelou, still grieving over Dr King’s death, to attend a party at the home of Jules Feiffer, a cartoonist and writer. Feiffer was so taken by Angelou that he mentioned her to Random House editor Bob Loomis, who persuaded her to write a book by daring her into it, saying that it was “nearly impossible to write autobiography as literature.”
Sometimes he was called “the mouth”, but he was so wonderful to look at and great to listen to. His poetry always made me laugh. He was a man who made an immediate impact on my life, because he was at once so big and so gentle. He was very strong, but he also was very gentle and had a wonderful sense of humour.
You have to be intelligent to have a sense of humour, so I knew then Muhammad Ali – as powerful as he was – also had a sense of humour. I loved that. I never trust people who don’t laugh, and I trusted him immediately.
When I met him back in Ghana, he was very young – it was 40 years ago! We had a good talk, and it wasn’t competitive, combative conversation. I keep the memory of that meal very precious to me. I’ve not even written about it.”