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Poet Maya Angelou dies at 86

Maya Angelou in New York City at the Norman Mailer Center's Fifth Annual Benefit Gala
Maya Angelou in New York City at the Norman Mailer Center's Fifth Annual Benefit Gala
Photo by Michael Loccisano

Acclaimed poet, Maya Angelou, passed away on Wednesday morning at the age of 86, as reported by and ABC She died at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, according to her son, Guy B. Johnson. Reportedly, she may have had heart ailments. She had recently canceled a scheduled appearance at the 2014 MLB Beacon Awards Luncheon that was to have taken place on May 30.

The author of seven autobiographies, including “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” Dr. Maya Angelou was also a professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University. In fact, during her remarkable lifetime, Maya Angelou was a civil rights activist, an actress, a television and film producer, a film director, a playwright and a dancer.

Angelou was born Marguerite Annie Johnson on April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri. She grew up in Stamps, Arkansas, where she and her older brother, Bailey, were raised by their grandmother. They later moved to San Francisco to live with their mother. At the age of 16, Maya Angelou became the first female streetcar conductor in San Francisco. She married Tosh Angelos in 1951. After the marriage ended, she focused on her dancing and her writing career. During the civil rights era, she befriended Malcolm X. In 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. asked Angelou to organize a civil rights march, but he was assassinated on her 40th birthday. In 1996, she directed “Down in the Delta,” a film which starred Alfre Woodard and Wesley Snipes and chronicled the struggles of a drug-addled mother who left the big city and returned to her family's ancestral home in rural Mississippi.

Loved by celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou was also a friend and mentor to heads of state. She read her famous poem, “On the Pulse of the Morning” at President Bill Clinton's first inauguration in 1993. She received a Grammy award for the poem's recording. In 2011, President Barack Obama honored Dr. Angelou with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. May she rest in peace.