An acclaimed American poet and autobiographer, Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri. Angelou has had a varied career as a singer, dancer, actress, composer, and Hollywood's first female black director, but is most famous as a writer, editor, essayist, playwright, and poet. As a civil rights activist, Angelou worked for Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcom X. She has also been an educator and is currently the Reynolds professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University. By 1975, wrote Carol E. Neubauer in Southern Women Writers: The New Generation, "Angelou had become recognized not only as a spokesperson for blacks and women, but also for all people who are committed to raising the moral standards of living in the United States."
History - African-American Studies: Maya Angelo
Maya Angelou is an internationally renowned bestselling author, poet, actor, political activist, and first-year inductee into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame. She holds over fifty honorary university degrees and is known throughout the world as a spokesperson for human rights, freedom, justice, and peace and has often been the first woman and/or the first African American to obtain certain job opportunities in the United States as well as in Africa.
Angelou was born Marguerite Annie Johnson on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri, to Bailey Johnson, a doorman and naval dietician, and Vivian Baxter Johnson, a nurse, real estate agent, and, later, merchant marine. Angelou had one brother, Bailey Jr., who was often her only ally and strongest supporter.
At the age of three, after the divorce of her parents in St. Louis in 1931, Marguerite and Bailey Jr. were sent to Arkansas to live with their paternal grandmother, Annie Henderson, and their uncle, Willie, in Stamps (Lafayette County). Annie Henderson, owner of the only grocery store in the small town, was a very religious woman who reared the children in a strict manner but always with love, and Uncle Willie had a tendency to spoil them. It is in this atmosphere that Johnson first encountered Southern bigotry and racial disharmony among white customers who called her grandmother by her first name and poked fun at her crippled uncle. She also saw how African Americans defined beauty and self-worth based upon what the white people expressed and displayed during their daily encounters. Later, Angelou suggested that her faith and Christian beliefs—and her strong sense of fair play and inner beauty—stemmed from these experiences.
In 1935, the children were returned to the care of their mother in Chicago, Illinois, but were sent back to Stamps after it was discovered that Johnson had been sexually molested by her mother's boyfriend, who was later found dead. The small girl felt guilty and believed that her voice had caused the death of the rapist, so she became mute and remained so for four years. It was at this time that she turned inward and began to comfort herself with the written word. A teacher, Beulah Flowers, befriended her and introduced her ...