Noted author, poet laureate and civil rights activist Maya Angelou was found dead Wednesday morning by her caretaker. She was 86. During her lifetime, Angelou saw many things and she wrote about them with great depth and emotion. Her seminal book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” is mandatory reading in many high schools across the country.
Angelou was born Marguerite Ann Johnson on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri to Bailey Johnson, a doorman and a navy dietitian, and Vivian (Baxter) Johnson, a nurse. Her mother and father divorced and Angelou found herself without warning sent to Stamps, Arkansas to live with her maternal grandmother. She spoke of her early life of abuse and rape at the age of 8 by her mother’s boyfriend in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The rapist named “Freeman” was jailed for only one day. He was later found murdered. Angelou believed her uncles killed the man.
However, the trauma of that rape which caused her to be mute for five years, also gave her artistic voice and passion. Despite her numerous obstacles, Angelou rose to become a literary force and wise elder to a score of people from the common man to stars such as Oprah Winfrey. In 2011, President Barack Obama presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, for her many works and contributions.
Angelou was aware of and used social media quite frequently. Her last post to Twitter was on May 23, 2014, in which she tweeted: “Listen to yourself and in the quietude you might hear the voice of God.”