EDITORIAL: Maya Angelou 1928-2014
6/4/2014, 3 p.m.
The tremendous outpouring of affection and stirring tributes following Maya Angelou’s death on May 28 are an indication of the love and high esteem with which a wide cross-section of fans and admirers held her.
A national treasure, Angelou led a rich, vibrant and textured life that serves as the best example of a person who chose love over hate, the positive over the negative and hope and joy over sadness and despair.
Angelou lived a life whose two halves seemed to be polar opposites. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, her parents separated and she and her brother went to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas where she endured the slings and barbs, the insults and abusive behavior meted out to blacks by whites in the Jim Crow South. Her mother’s boyfriend raped her and when he was killed by her uncles, she stopped talking for five and one-half years because she thought her words had killed him.
Overcoming this and more, Angelou embarked on a 60-year artistic journey as writer, poet, essayist, actress, cabaret and Calypso singer, as well as film and TV director. She counted Malcolm X and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King as friends and after an assassin’s bullet ended King’s life on April 4, 1968 – Angelou’s 40th birthday – she stopped celebrating it for many years.
Angelou is also remembered for her activism where she gave voice to the weak, vulnerable and dispossessed, and where she also stood tall for the underdog. She seemed fearless and if she was, it was because she had so fully embraced and understood the importance of courage. She once said: “You develop courage, the most important of all the virtues, because without courage, you can't practice any other virtue consistently."
The honors bestowed on this national treasure are legion, including 50 honorary degrees, winner of three Grammys, and recipient of America’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. President Bill Clinton invited Angelou to read a poem at his 1993 Inauguration, making her only the second poet so honored, along with Robert Frost. And she also delivered an eloquent and moving poem she wrote to mark the historic Million Man March in 1995.
Maya Angelou was our mother. She became the wise elder that we all could go to for sound advice and long soothing hugs before we went back out to face the vagaries of an often cruel world.
We will miss her dearly but rather than mourn, we should celebrate her life and give thanks that she stayed among us for so long and left such an indelible legacy.