Historical Figures

Maya Angelou, activist artist

Marguerite Johnson, known as Maya Angelou (1928 – 2014) was an African-American writer, actress and activist. She is notably an important figure in the American civil rights movement.


The sufferings of childhood

Born on April 4, 1928 in Saint-Louis (Missouri, United States), Marguerite Johnson is the second child of Vivian Baxter Johnson, nurse, and Bailey Johnson, doorman. Her older brother, Bailey Jr, calls her Maya, a nickname derived from "My" or "Mya Sister". While still in their infancy, Maya and Bailey Jr's parents separated, and Bailey sent them to live with her mother, Annie Henderson, in Arkansas.

Four years later, without notice, Bailey returns to pick up the children to bring them back to their mother in St. Louis. Vivian's new companion, a man named Freeman, rapes little Maya, then barely eight years old. The little girl tells her brother, who alerts the rest of the family. Found guilty, Freeman is imprisoned for only one day. A few days after his release, he was assassinated, probably by an uncle of Maya. Convinced that Freeman is dead because she said his name, Maya then goes into a long period of silence and refuses to speak.

The exit from silence

Maya and her brother are sent back to their grandmother. There, the little girl meets a teacher and friend of the family who introduces her to literature and helps her to start speaking again. Maya develops, during this period, a great interest in books and reading, as well as an excellent memory and great listening and attention skills, but it takes almost five years before coming out of her silence. At the age of fourteen, she and her brother returned to live with their mother in California, where they continued their studies. Maya graduated in 1945 while working as a streetcar driver in San Francisco. At seventeen, she gave birth to a son, Clyde.

Maya Angelou

In 1951, Maya married Tosh Angelos, an electrician and aspiring musician from Greece, despite her mother's disapproval and the fact that mixed marriages were frowned upon. She took modern dance classes then African dances, and met dancers and choreographers, performing at events in San Francisco but without experiencing success. At the end of her marriage, three years later, Maya was hired to dance and sing in clubs, and took the stage name "Maya Angelou". In 1954-1955, she participated in a tour of the opera Porgy and Bess in Europe, and learned several languages ​​during this period. In 1957, she recorded her first album, Miss Calypso .

The Organization of Afro-American Unity

In 1959, Maya Angelou met novelist John Oliver Killens, who suggested that she move to New York and concentrate on writing. She joined the Harlem Writers Guild, the first club of African-American writers, and began writing autobiographies, screenplays, poems, essays. It was first published in 1969. In 1960, Maya met Martin Luther King Jr. and actively supported his militant civil rights organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). At the same time, she is committed against apartheid. With the South African activist Vusumzi Make, Maya moved to Cairo for a while, then to Accra in Ghana, where she worked as a journalist and performed in the theater. It was in Accra that she met and became friends with Malcolm X in the early 1960s. In 1965, she returned to the United States to help him build a new civil rights organization, the Organization of Afro. -American Unity, but Malcolm X is assassinated soon after. Devastated, as she would be again in 1968 when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Maya once again focused on her writing career, while continuing to perform in theatre.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

In 1969, his first autograph, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings earned him international recognition. Maya Angelou recounts her youth, from the moment she and her younger brother arrived at their grandmother's house for the first time, when she herself became a mother. In 1972, his film Georgia, Georgia was released. , the first film with a screenplay written by a black woman. She began a very productive artistic period, composing music for films or for singers, writing articles, short stories, screenplays, poetry, autobiographies, producing plays, occasionally teaching at university and playing a few roles. During this period, she received numerous awards, including some thirty honorary degrees from many universities around the world. At the end of the 1970s, Maya met Oprah Winfrey, of whom she would become a close friend and mentor. In 1981, she accepted a professorship at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, where she taught philosophy, ethics, theology, theater and writing. She continues, in parallel, her artistic career in poetry, cinema and music.

In 2008, Maya backed Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Party primaries for the presidential election, then backed Barack Obama when he won the primaries. In 2013, she published her seventh autobiography, Mom &Me &Mom . Unlike the previous six, each of which chronologically evoked a period of his life, this latest work focuses more generally on his relationship with his mother.

Maya Angelou died on May 28, 2014, at the age of 86. International tributes are paid to him. Maya Angelou has become an iconic figure in the United States, and her books are on the school curriculum.

Useful links

Maya Angelou's Wikipedia page
Maya Angelou's Wikipedia file in English (more complete)
The work of Maya Angelou (English)
Caged bird legacy