The death of poet, actress, author, and professor Dr. Maya Angelou at age 86 comes shortly after her last national television appearance on a national program that the present writer had plane tickets to Los Angeles but cancelled due to a state emergency. Thus, the memory of seeing her on April 29, 2010, is the last memory of a poet who was taught and recited daily in his Black Poetry class taught at Howard University for a decade.
As a poet Maya Angelou gave African-American women a voice and a sense of pride in a society that often discounted and disrespected them. Her classic autobiography, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, told the story of her brutal upbringing and the resilience and determination that she used to become a success and overcome the hardships of her childhood to become a friend of both Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X.
She loved poetry and she loved poets. “Amiri Baraka is one of our greatest living poets,” she said. But it was Maya Angelou who was asked to be the American poet who wrote and presented an original poem to the nation for the Inauguration of President William Jefferson Clinton in 1993. Her poetry was honest and reflected the world that she remembered growing up as an African-American child in Arkansas.
Angelou was a frequent visitor to the District of Columbia. Her friendship with the great Dorothy Irene Height was legendary and she was involved with helping underprivileged children in the District. Her life as a poet was also balanced with her work as an actress. In 1977 she joined the cast of the largest African-American ensemble of actors and actress in the greatest American television production in history. Her performance in the television production of Alex Haley’s book, ROOTS, was memorable for her portrayal of a strong African women.
President Barack Obama awarded Angelou with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her service and contributions to the United States of America.
First Lady Michelle Obama will speak at the private funeral service for Professor Angelou at Wake Forest University. Officials in the City of Wake Forest explained to Examiner.com that there would not be a public funeral. Guy Johnson, the only son of the famed writer and professor, has asked the public to please respect the privacy of the family.