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Wed, 04.04.1928

Maya Angelou, Writer, and Activist born

Maya Angelou

*Maya Angelou was born on this date in 1928. She was a Black poet, historian, author, actress, playwright, activist, producer, and director.

Born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, Angelou was raised in segregated rural Arkansas and in San Francisco, where she fulfilled an early desire to become that city's first Black streetcar conductor. She studied dance with Pearl Primus in New York around the 1950s and eventually sang in New York and San Francisco nightclubs.  Angelou, who speaks French, Spanish, Italian, and West African Fanti, also worked abroad as an editor for The Arab Observer, an English-language weekly published in Cairo.

While living in Accra, Ghana, she married a South African freedom fighter and taught music and drama at the University of Ghana while Black Nationalist Kwame Nkrumah was in power. She was also the feature editor of The African Review. She studied cinematography in Sweden. In the 1960s, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. asked Angelou to become the northern coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). As a writer, she gained national prominence in 1970 with the publication of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the first volume of her autobiography, which included her run-ins with southern racism and rape by her mother's lover.

In 1975 she received the Ladies Home Journal Woman of the Year Award in communications. President Gerald Ford appointed her to the Bicentennial Commission and President Jimmy Carter to the National Commission on the Observance of International Women's Year. She has received numerous honorary degrees and has published ten best-selling books and many magazine articles. She has been awarded a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award selections.  At the request of President Clinton, she wrote and delivered a poem at his 1993 presidential inauguration.

She was on the board of the American Film Institute and is one of the few female members of the Director's Guild. Angelou has been a groundbreaker for Black women through her scriptwriting and directing work.  She has made hundreds of television appearances and has written and produced several successful documentaries, such as Afro-Americans in the Arts. She received an Emmy Award for acting in Roots and her screenplay Georgia. Georgia was the first Black woman to be filmed. She produced, directed, and starred on stage in Cabaret for Freedom, The Blacks, and more.

Dr. Maya Angelou has held countless audiences spellbound with her narratives that range from her childhood to her youthful love for Shakespeare, James Weldon Johnson, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and others. A world traveler of the human message, she is currently Reynolds Professor at Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Maya Angelou died in 2014.

Maya Angelou became the first Black woman to appear in a US quarter after a coin featuring the late poet and activist’s image went into circulation on January 10, 2022.

To be a Writer




Black Women in America An Historical Encyclopedia
Volumes 1 and 2, edited by Darlene Clark Hine
Copyright 1993, Carlson Publishing Inc., Brooklyn, New York
ISBN 0-926019-61-9

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