Professor, poet, writer, dancer, singer, actress and mentor Dr, Maya Angelou (1928-2014) was given a service today at Wake Forest University that included tributes by President William Jefferson Clinton, First Lady Michelle Obama, Ambassador Andrew Young, Actress Cicely Tyson, OWN Network CEO Oprah Winfrey, and her only son, Guy Johnson and family that brought dignity, honor, and joy to a woman who served her nation and the world with 86 years of giving, caring, writing and teaching. It was a phenomenal service for a phenomenal woman.
From the moment the service started at 10 a.m. until the last farewell two hours later the life of an incredible woman was shared with honesty and clarity. Clinton gave reflections of the impact that Angelou made on her nation with the publication on her classic and brutally honest autobiography, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. “I knew those people,” he said. Clinton referred to the horrible conditions that Angelou wrote about in her book and told the audience that he lived 25 miles from Stamps, Arkansas. “God gave her his voice,” Clinton said.
First Lady Michelle Obama told the gathering that the mother of President Barack Obama named her daughter after Maya Angelou and the first lady shared how Angelou helped her to accept her brown skin when her first doll was a Malibu Barbie. “She made me feel that I could do this,” Obama said. Oprah Winfrey gave a tribute that brought her to tears as she remembered how Angelou supported her when she faced a lawsuit by the Texas Cattlemen's Association for a comment that she made on her television talk show about “eating a burger.”
Perhaps the most touching tribute came from Angelou’s son. As his grandson assisted him, Johnson acknowledged that his family had shared his mother with the world; however, he talked about the incredible mother that he knew. Holding back tears as he discussed the pain that she endured, he spoke as the only child of a mother that President Clinton said, “worked as the first African-American Street Car Conductor in San Francisco to take care of her child all before she was 20.” Johnson said that his mother was a nova. He spoke of her sacrifice and love for her only child.
In a service that brought back memories of the April 29, 2010, service for her dear friend, Dorothy Irene Height, the service for Dr. Maya Angelou was an incredible outpouring of love, faith, and honor. Wake Forest University served the nation well by providing a glorious service for the greatest woman Winfrey said she ever knew.
There will be more tributes to Angelou across the nation. Examiner.com will provide additional updates as information becomes available.
For a complete list of every speaker and performer at the service go to http://mayangelou.wfu.edu.