Home » Marguerite Johnson “ Maya Angelou


Marguerite Johnson “ Maya Angelou” April 4, 1928

Maya Angelou is an American author and poet. She has published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, and several books of poetry, and is credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning more than fifty years. Maya was the first Black female streetcar conductor in San Francisco, California during the 1940′s. Then she became the first black women to have her screenplay produced. In 1969, Angelou’s autobiography I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings became the first non-fiction best-seller written by a Black woman . The Book tells of her life up to the age of seventeen, and brought her international recognition and acclaim. Finally in 1993, during the former president of the United States Bill Clinton’s inauguration, Maya Angelou became the first Black woman to do an inaugural recitation.

Marguerite Johnson was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on Monday April 4, 1928 a Sagittarian , She was the second child of Bailey Johnson, and Vivian (Baxter) Johnson, Her older brother, Bailey Jr., gave her the nickname “Maya” . She was three, and her brother four, their parents’ troubled marriage ended, and their father sent them to Stamps, Arkansas, alone by train to live with their paternal grandmother, Annie Henderson. Which they could live a very privileged life. For she was financially secured during the Great Depression and World War II because she owned a general store which sold needed basic commodities and her wise choice of investments with her money.

Their father “came to Stamps four years later without any notification to anyone retrived the children and returned them to their mother’s care in St. Louis. At the age of eight, while living with her mother, Angelou was sexually abused and raped by her mother’s boyfriend. She told her brother, who told the rest of their family. Freeman the pedophile rapist was found guilty, but was jailed for only one day. Four days after his release, he was murdered.

This tragic event caused her to become mute for almost five years,believing, as she has stated, “I thought, my voice killed him; I killed that man, because I told his name. And then I thought I would never speak again, because my voice would kill anyone …”According to Marcia Ann Gillespie and her colleagues, who wrote a biography about Angelou, it was during this period of silence when Angelou developed her extraordinary memory, her love for books and literature, and her ability to listen and observe the world around her.

Again due to the trauma there needed to be a separation from the environment so Maya and her brother relocated back to their grandmother once again. Maya credits a teacher and friend of her family, Mrs. Bertha Flowers, with helping her speak again. Flowers introduced her to authors such as Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, Douglas Johnson, and James Weldon Johnson, authors that would affect her life and career, as well as black female artists like Frances Harper, Anne Spencer and Jessie Fauset.When Angelou was 14, she and her brother moved in with their mother once again to Oakland, California.

During World War II, she attended George Washington High School while studying dance and drama on a scholarship at the California Labor School. Before graduating, she worked as the first black female streetcar conductor in San Francisco.Three weeks after completing school, at the age of 17, she gave birth to her son, Clyde who later changed his name to Guy Johnson. Maya life from age 17 to 19 as stated she worked as “the front woman/business manager for prostitutes,” restaurant cook, and prostitute. She moved through a series of relationships, occupations, and cities as she attempted to raise her son without job training or advanced education.

In 1951, Angelou married Greek electrician, former sailor, and aspiring musician Tosh Angelos despite the condemnation of interracial relationships at the time and the disapproval of her mother. She lived in San Francisco with her husband and son.


After Angelou’s marriage ended in 1954, she danced professionally in clubs around San Francisco, including the nightclub The Purple Onion. She went by the name of “Marguerite Johnson”, or “Rita”, but at the strong suggestion of her managers and supporters at The Purple Onion she changed her professional name to “Maya Angelou”, a “distinctive name” that set her apart and captured the feel of her Calypso rhythm dance performances.

During 1954 and 1955 Maya toured Europe with a production of the opera Porgy and Bess. She began her practice of learning the language years she gained proficiency in several languages . In 1957, riding on the popularity of calypso, She recorded her first album, Miss Calypso, which was reissued as a CD in 1996. She appeared in an off-Broadway review that inspired the film Calypso Heat Wave, in which Angelou sang and performed her own compositions.

MAYA Angelou met novelist James O. Killens in 1959, and at his urging, moved to New York to concentrate on her writing career. She joined the Harlem Writers Guild where she met several major African-American authors, including John Henrik Clarke, Rosa Guy, Paule Marshall, and Julian Mayfield, and her work was published for the first time.

Going Into the 1960’s her life changes in more of an activist after meeting civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and hearing him speak, she and James Killens organized “the legendary” Cabaret for Freedom to benefit the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and she was named SCLC’s Northern Coordinator. According to scholar Lyman B. Hagen, her contributions to civil rights as a fundraiser and SCLC organizer were successful and “eminently effective”. Maya also began her pro-Castro and anti-apartheid activism during this time In 1961,

May Angelou performed in Jean Genets The Blacks. In That same year she met South African freedom fighter Vusumzi Make they were partners in life . She and her son Guy moved to Cairo with Vusumzi there she worked as an associate editor at the weekly English-language newspaper The Arab Observer. In 1962 her relationship with Busumzi ended, She left with her son and moved to Accra, Ghana, where her son attend college, but he was seriously injured in an automobile accident. She remained in Accra for his recovery and ended up staying there until 1965. She became an administrator at the University of Ghana, and was active in the African-American expatriate community. She was a feature editor for The African Review a freelance writer for the Ghanaian Times, wrote and broadcast for Radio Ghana, and worked and performed for Ghana’s National Theatre. She performed in a revival of The Blacks in Geneva and Berlin.

In Accra, she became close friends with Malcolm X during his visit in the early 1960s. Maya Angelou returned to the U.S. in 1965 to help Malcolm build a new civil rights organization, the Organization of Afro-American Unity; which they did successfully and was assassinated shortly afterward. Devastated and adrift, she joined her brother in Hawaii, where she resumed her singing career, and then moved back to Los Angeles to focus on her writing career. She worked as a market researcher in the impoverished Watts neighborhood and witnessed the riots in the summer of 1965.

She acted in and wrote plays, and returned to New York in 1967. She met her lifelong friend Rosa Guy and renewed her friendship with James Baldwin, whom she had met in Paris in the 1950s and called “my brother”, during this time. Her friend Jerry Purcell provided Maya with a salary to support her writing.


In 1968, Martin Luther King asked Angelou to organize a march. She agreed, and in what Gillespie calls “a macabre twist of fate”,that is when he was assassinated on her 40th birthday. Devastated again, she was encouraged out of her depression by her friend James Baldwin. As Gillespie states, “If 1968 was a year of great pain, loss, and sadness, it was also the year when America first witnessed the breadth and depth of Maya Angelou’s spirit and creative genius”. Despite almost no experience, she wrote, produced, and narrated “Blacks, Blues, Black!”, a ten-part series of documentaries about the connection between blues music and black Americans’ African heritage and what she called the “Africanisms still current in the U.S.” for National Educational Television, the precursor of PBS. Also in 1968, inspired at a dinner party she attended with Baldwin, cartoonist Jules Feiffer, and his wife Judy, and challenged by Random House editor Robert Loomis, she wrote her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings James was very instrumental in this publication , published in 1969, which brought her international recognition and acclaim.

Angelou’s wrote Georgia, Georgia, which was produced by a Swedish film company and filmed in Sweden, the first screenplay written by a black woman was released in 1972. She also wrote the film’s soundtrack, despite having very little additional input in the filming of the movie. Maya married a second time to a carpenter, Paul du Feu, in San Francisco in 1973.

In the next ten years, as Gillespie has stated, “She had accomplished more than many artists hope to achieve in a lifetime”. She worked as a composer, writing for singer Roberta Flack and composing movie scores. She wrote articles, short stories, TV scripts and documentaries, autobiographies and poetry, produced plays, and was named visiting professors of several colleges and universities. She was “a reluctant actor”, and was nominated for a Tony Award in 1973 for her role in Look Away. In 1977 She appeared in a supporting role in the television mini-series Roots. She was given a multitude of awards during this period, including over thirty honorary degrees from colleges and universities from all over the world.

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Maya and her Mom


In the late 1970s, Maya met Oprah Winfrey which was an Anchor commentator in Baltimore, Maryland; Angelou would later become Winfrey’s close friend and mentor. In 1981, Maya and du Feu divorced. She returned to the southern United States in 1981, where she accepted the lifetime Reynolds Professorship of American Studies at Wake Forest University. At that point in her life she considered herself ” as a teacher who writes”.

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Maya and Oprah

In 1993, Angelou recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton, becoming the first poet to make an inaugural recitation since Robert Frost at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961. Her recitation resulted in more fame and recognition for her previous works, and broadened her appeal “across racial, economic, and educational boundaries”. The recording of the poem was awarded a Grammy Award.

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President Clinton Speech



In June 1995, she delivered what Richard Long called her “second ‘public’ poem”, entitled “A Brave and Startling Truth”, which commemorated the 50th anniversary of the United Nations. Angelou achieved her goal of directing a feature film in 1996, Down in the Delta. Since the 1990s, Angelou has actively participated in the lecture circuit[ in a customized tour bus, something she continued into her eighties. In 2000, she created a successful collection of products for Hallmark, including greeting cards and decorative household items. In 2002 Maya completed her sixth autobiography A Song Flung Up to Heaven., In 2013, at the age of 85, she published the seventh autobiography in her series, Mom & Me & Mom, which focused on her relationship with her mother.

Angelou campaigned for Senator Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Party in the 2008 presidential primaries. When Clinton’s campaign ended, Angelou put her support behind Senator Barack Obama, who won the election and became the first African American president of the United States. She stated, “We are growing up beyond the idiocies of racism and sexism “.

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President Obama Speech


In late 2010, Angelou donated her personal papers and career memorabilia to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem. They consisted of over 340 boxes of documents that featured her handwritten notes on yellow legal pads for I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a 1982 telegram from Coretta Scott King, fan mail, and personal and professional correspondence from colleagues such as her editor Robert Loomis.

This so Eloquent Mother, Leader, Innovator, Teacher, Friend, Lady and poet who through the dramatic trauma in her life has overcome and broke down every barrier through her passion and determination. She is an Epiphany of a quiet roaring ocean filled with life positive energies to feed the masses.



“While I know myself as a creation of God, I am also obligated to realize and remember that everyone else and everything else are also God’s creation”.

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage”.

“ Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.”

”I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Maya Angelou



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