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NAACP Legal Defense Fund Celebrates the Life of Dr. Maya Angelou (1928-2014)

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5/28/14

Maya Angelou

Hold those things that tell your history and protect them. During slavery, who was able to read or write or keep anything? The ability to have somebody to tell your story to is so important. It says: 'I was here. I may be sold tomorrow. But you know I was here.’

When I try to describe myself to God I say, 'Lord, remember me? Black? Female? Six-foot tall? The writer?' And I almost always get God's attention.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund celebrates the life of Maya Angelou – America’s poet -- whose unflinching prose and poetry bore witness to the Jim Crow South.   

Although Dr. Angelou is no longer physically present, her spirit lives on through her words and the stories she told of herself, her family, her community, and her country. We are eminently grateful that she, so elegantly and eloquently, told the American tales that few care to remember and that few do remember -- yet that transcend time and place.

Dr. Angelou wrote over thirty books of autobiography, essays, and poetry. The poem she recited at President Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration “On the Pulse of Morning” concluded:

Here, on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister's eyes, and into
Your brother's face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope --
Good morning.

Dr. Angelou was also an indefatigable civil rights fighter and political activist. After stints as a dancer, calypso singer, streetcar conductor, magazine editor in Cairo, and administrative assistant in Ghana she returned to the U.S. to join the Southern Christian Leadership Conference where she succeeded Bayard Rustin as the coordinator of the New York office.

President Obama presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor in 2011.

As Dr. Angelou wrote in “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” “If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat.” 

But perhaps this is her most prescient and hauntingly beautiful stanza:

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly.  Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed.  They existed.
We can be.  Be and be
better.  For they existed.