A poet, an author, a play-write, an actress, a mother, a civil-rights activists, historian and most
important a survivor. Perhaps Maya Angelou, award winning author of many books is one of the most
influential African Americans in American history. I believe that she rates at the top of the list of
American authors, with Hemingway, Hawthorne, and Voight. I believe through my research and reading of
Maya Angelou that she should be among the members of The American Authors Hall of Fame.
Maya was born on, April 4th, 1928 as Marguerite Johnson, in St. Louis Missouri. She was raised
in Stamps Arkansas, by her Grandmother Annie Henderson and Her Uncle Willie. Stamps was a rural
segregated community. However, it was tight knit between the African Americans.
Maya grew up during a very difficult time period in American history. They were just recovering from the
Great Depression, and learning how to deal with different races of people. Maya knew this and made it
clear in her writing.
"It was awful to be Negro and have no control over my life. It was brutal to be
young and already trained to sit quietly and listen to charges brought against my color
with no chance of defense. We should be dead. I thought I should like to see us all dead, one on top of
each other. A pyramid of flesh with the whit folks on the bottom, . . . and then the Negro's." (Angelou
Caged Bird 153)
"If growing up was painful for the Southern Black Girl, being aware of her displacement
is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." (Angelou, Caged Bird)
Grandma Henderson was a very religious person, and a key factor in Maya's upbringing. as with
the rest of the people of Stamps. Maya and her brother Baily were punished as necessary. She kept Baily
and Maya out of trouble and on the right track. "A devout woman Grandmother Henderson led her family
in prayer each day at 4:00am." (Aging and Human Development 181)
When Maya was about six, she and Baily moved to St. Louis to live with her mother, and her
boyfriend, Mr. Freeman. While staying in St. Louis, she was raped by Mr. Freeman. Afterwards, Mr.
Freeman was killed. Maya was certain that her voice had the power to kill, after all, she was the one that
told on him, so Maya became mute for the next two years.
After returning to Stamps, a woman by the name of Bertha Flowers brought Maya out of her mute.
"Mrs. Flowers she had the grace of control to appear warm in the coldest of weather... she acted just as
refined as the white folks." (Angelou, Caged Bird 76-78) Mrs. Flowers brought the works of
Shakespeare, Hawthorne, and many others to Maya. Mrs. Flowers made her read and recite the verses.
Maya was about 11, Grandma Baxter moved her and Baily to San Francisco, California to escape
to racial fights in the south. Maya was just as mystified with her mother now as when she first meets her in
St. Louis. Maya would go to see her father every so often, until one summer he asked Maya to live with
him for the summer. Maya's father often took trips to Mexico on the weekend. Maya went with him on
one, just to find herself driving her drunken father home. When Maya returned home, she got into an awful
fight with her father's girlfriend. Maya then ran away, became homeless, and lived in a junkyard.
One year after Maya became homeless, she returned home with her mother. Maya
attended secondary school, and found herself a job being the first black conductorette on the San Francisco
street cars. This was a great accomplishment in Maya's mind, she had done something that no one else has
ever done. Maya was now about 16 years of age, and curious about sex. She thought that maybe she was
lesbian, so to find out, she had sex with a friend, and ended up pregnant. Maya was only 16 years old. She
was now the Mother of Guy Johnson.
Maya moved to West Africa, and took up the job as a professor at The University of Ghana.