BY CASH MICHAELS OF THE WILMINGTON JOURNAL
On May 23rd, 2014, Dr. Maya Angelou tweeted, “Listen to yourself, and in that quietude you may hear the voice of God.”
It was her last message to the world. Five days later, on May 28th, the woman who wrote the groundbreaking autobiography, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” was found dead in her Winston-Salem home.
Dr. Angelou was 86.
On Facebook, Angelou’s family said that the matriarch passed quietly before 8 a.m.
“Her family is extremely grateful that her ascension was not belabored by a loss of acuity or comprehension. She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace. The family is extremely appreciative of the time we had with her, and we know that she is looking down upon us with love,” the statement continued.
President Barack Obama offered his condolences from the White House:
When her friend Nelson Mandela passed away last year, Maya Angelou wrote, that “No sun outlasts its sunset, but will rise again, and bring the dawn.”
The President’s statement continued, “Today, Michelle and I join millions around the world in remembering one of the brightest lights of our time – a brilliant writer, a fierce friend, and a truly phenomenal woman. Over the course of her remarkable life, Maya was many things – an author, poet, civil rights activist, playwright, actress, director, composer, singer and dancer, but above all, she was a storyteller, and her greatest stories were true. A childhood of suffering and abuse actually drove her to stop speaking, but the voice she found helped generations of Americans find their rainbow amidst the clouds and inspired the rest of us to be our best selves. In fact, she inspired my own mother to name my sister Maya.”
Pres. Obama concluded, “Like so many others, Michelle and I will always cherish the time we were privileged to spend with Maya. With a kind word and a strong embrace, she had the ability to remind us that we are all God’s children, that we all have something to offer. And while Maya’s day may be done, we take comfort in knowing that her song will continue, ‘flung up to heaven’, and we celebrate the dawn that Maya Angelou helped bring.”
North Carolina Congressman G. K. Butterfield [D -12 – NC] wrote, “This day is one of extreme sadness as we mourn the passing of renowned American poet, best-selling author, and revered civil and women’s rights activist, Dr. Maya Angelou. Through her inspiring written work and commanding oratory skills, Maya Angelou touched the lives of countless people. She dared women to be phenomenal and challenged us all to overcome adversity. She was a voice for good and decency throughout the world. I join millions of people today in mourning this tremendous loss. I extend my deepest condolences to her family and take solace in her incredible legacy that will undoubtedly live on.”
Indeed, Dr. Angelou had been suffering from an undisclosed illness for some time. Recently she canceled public appearances with Major League Baseball and in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Last month, she had to be hospitalized. However just last year, at the age of 85, Angelou maintained a full schedule of touring and speaking engagements.
She was, in the words of one of her popular poems, a “phenomenal woman.”
Born Marguerite Ann Johnson on April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri, she was the second of eight children. It was her older brother, Bailey, who nicknamed her “Maya” to mean “my sister.”
At age eight, after the breakup of her parents, Maya Angelou was brutally raped by her mother’s boyfriend. She told her family, and after the man was convicted and sentenced to one day in prison, her outraged family killed him.
So traumatic were these events, that the little Maya would not speak for six years, fearful that her words could bring death.
During this period, Angelou learned to appreciate studying literature and reading the great authors like Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare. Through the years, young Maya would learn music and dance, while surviving in jobs that ranged from being a streetcar conductor to short order cook, to even a prostitute. By her teens, Maya had become a single mother and did what she could to provide for herself and her son.
By the 1950s, she married a Greek musician whose last name was Angelos, and joined the modern dance set with figures like Alvin Ailey and Ruth Beckford. After her marriage ended in 1954, Angelou danced and sang calypso music professionally in clubs, adopting the name, “Maya Angelou.” She later toured Europe in musicals like “Porgy and Bess”, and recorded her first album in 1957 entitled, “Miss Calypso.”
In 1959, Angelou moved to New York City to start her writing career, and, a year later, she met civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who later made her Northern Coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
In 1961, Angelou and her son moved to Egypt, where she became the associate editor of the English-language newspaper, The Arab Observer. She would go on to work in Ghana and Accra, where Angelou would meet and eventually work with Malcolm X, helping him found a new organization after he left the Nation of Islam.
Upon the assassinations of Malcolm X and Dr. King, Angelou would find herself back in the arts, writing for television and films, and ultimately authoring her now classic award winning autobiography, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”
She appeared on the Broadway stage and on television, most notably in “Roots,” the historic ABC-TV 1977 mini-series.
In the coming years, until her death, Dr. Angelou would publish seven autobiographical books and books of poetry and become the second poet in history to recite at a presidential inauguration (President Clinton’s in 1993). She accepted the lifetime Reynolds Professorship of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem; and has been honored with numerous awards and honors.
Upon news of her death, figures from the world of politics, literature and entertainment all hailed Dr. Angelou as the unique human being that she was.
U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi tweeted, “Just like hopes springing high, still I’ll rise.”—Maya Angelou, a truly phenomenal woman whose words will serve to lift our souls forever.”
NAACP Chairwoman Roslyn Brock said, “Maya Angelou was a fearless writer, poet, and activist who made the world a better place for her generation and those to follow. Her powerful words taught scores of young women, particularly those of color, to believe that they are phenomenal and that their voices should never be silenced. Dr. Angelou rose from poverty, segregation, and violence to become a force on stage, screen and the printed page. Her legacy lives on in all of us.”
Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority international president, Carolyn House Stewart said of her soror, ““As a poet, author, actress, advocate, humanitarian and dispenser of wisdom, Maya Angelou inspired and uplifted everyone she touched. In her words and deeds, she was fierce, courageous, and bold. Most of all, and at her core, she radiated love. This rare ability to give and receive love will ultimately be the legacy she leaves the world.”
National Action Network president, Rev. Al Sharpton wrote, ““Maya Angelou was the quintessential renaissance woman of the 20th century art and human rights movements. Not only was she a literary icon, she was one of the few that turned her words into action. Although she participated in civil rights rallies, she challenged leaders of the civil rights movement to embrace the struggles of others and a broader view of freedom fighting. She challenged misogyny in the movement and was our poet, conscience, teacher, and corrector. She was one of the few people whose presence you felt in the room even if she didn’t say a word. Her spirit was incomparable.”
Stars like Mary J. Blige, Forest Whitaker, and Beyonce heralded her legacy.
“Saddened by the news of Maya Angelou’s passing,” tweeted recording artist, Pharrell Williams, whose hit song, “Happy” has rocked the charts. “A brilliant woman who contributed so much to the world. Her light will be sorely missed.”
Singer Kelly Rowland tweeted a famous quote from Dr. Angelou.
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – RIP Maya Angelou,” tweeted Rowland.
CNN anchor Anderson Cooper called Dr. Angelou, “A true original.”
Actor Forest Whitaker tweeted a famous Angelou quote, “”We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”
“American Idol” star Ryan Seacrest tweeted another famous quote, “”I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go thru life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.”
Rap music legend, Russell Simmons joined in the tributes, tweeting, “RIP to one of the greatest women this world has ever known. Thank you, Maya Angelou for all of the gifts and knowledge you gave us…”
At press time, there were no details about funeral arrangements for Dr. Maya Angelou.