Maya Angelou

     She was born under the name Marguerite Johnson, but her brother Baily renamed
her Maya. Her parents, Baily and Vivian Baxter Johnson, got divorced when she
was very young. Maya grew up in a very racist town. There were many problems in
her life, in which she describes in her autobiographical novel "I Know Why the

Caged Bird Sings". At the age of 16, she became pregnant, while experimenting
if her sexual preference was males or females. She had to get numerous jobs to
support herself and her son, Clyde, who was later known as Guy. In 1952, she
married a man named Tosh Angelos, but due to his atheist ideals, which grew to
be unacceptable to Maya’s religion, the marriage soon ended. In order to have
money to support herself and Clyde, she was forced to become a dancer and a bar
girl in a strip joint. After she got enough money, she moved to New York and
sang at various clubs. Maya started her writing career in New York with the

Harlem Literary Guild. She made contracts which led to her recognition as a
producer, director, and performer. In 1960, she married a South African freedom
fighter, Vusumzi Make. They both got jobs as editors of the Arab Observer. The
marriage ended three years later, and Maya moved to Ghana. She felt at home for
the first time of her life. This is when she started her first writings. Maya
was nominated for an Emmy Award for her acting in "Roots" and "Georgia,

Georgia". She also received a Pulitzer Prize Nomination for her poems "Just

Give Me a Cool Drink ‘fore I Die" (1971) and "And Still I Rise" (1976).

Being President Bill Clinton’s favorite writer, he asked her to write and
deliver a poem for his 1993 presidential inauguration. She also wrote a poem for
the "Million Man March". "On the Pulse of Morning" became a best-selling
book on 20 January 1993. Now, Maya is a Reynolds professor of American Studies
at Wake Forrest University in North Carolina. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou wrote "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" to express the
hardships of growing up a black woman in the time of racism and hatred. During
this autobiography of Maya’s life, she tells about how racist people are
against her and her family, along with every other black, and how being a girl
is also hard due to rapes and having to have children. People were also very
religious at this time to the point that if someone did something against the
religion, they would receive a beating. When Maya was three, and Bailey, her
brother, four, they both left Long Beach, California to live with their
father’s mother, Anne Henderson, in Stamps, Arkansas. They grew so much
respect for Anne, that they soon called her Momma. They lived with Momma and

Uncle Willie, who is crippled. Momma owned a store in the center of town which
became a big success. All of the workers in town went there for lunch every
afternoon. Momma was very religious, to the point that the kids would get hit
every time they disobey the religion. Uncle Willie was also very strict. He made

Maya and Baily at ages five and six, learn the times tables. Then he would test
them and if they made a mistake, he would push them closer to the heater. The
town that they live in is extremely racist. Every black talked about how dirty
the white men are, they called them "powhitetrash". Almost every day, being
that all blacks hated whites, and vice-versa, a bunch of whites would go to the
store to make fun, abuse, command Momma around the store. "People in Stamps
used to say that the whites in our town were so prejudiced that a Negro
couldn’t buy vanilla ice cream. Except on July Fourth. Other days he had to be
satisfied with chocolate" (Angelou 49). "A light shade had been pulled down
between the Black community and all things white, but one could see through it
enough to develop a fear-admiration-contempt for the white ‘things’ –
white folks’ cars and white glistening houses and their children and their
women" (Angelou 49). One time when Maya went to a white dentist, she was told
that he would rather stick his hand in a dog’s mouth than a nigger’s. When

Maya and Baily went to school, the teachers would tease them and be mean to
them, just because of their color. For many years, Maya and Baily thought that
their parents were dead, but on Christmas, they both received presents from
them. In realizing that they were both still alive, Maya and Baily went to visit
her mom, and her lover, Mr. Freeman, in St. Louis. Being that this was a
completely new environment, which Maya did not like at all, she started having
nightmares. She had to start sleeping with her mother and Mr. Freeman for a few
nights. One day, her mom went out early for errands and left Mr. Freeman and

Maya alone. Maya woke up to a strange feeling. Mr. Freeman’s "thing" on
her leg. He commanded her to stay put, then he put his hand between her legs. He
assured her that it was not bad and that it would not hurt, "Now, I didn’t
hurt you. Don’t get scared" (Angelou 73). Being so young and not knowing
what was happening, Maya agreed. He then took her and put her on his chest and
started masturbating. In the end, he made her say that she wet the bed when
mother saw the wet spot on the sheets. He then threatened her that if she told
anyone, he would kill Baily. About a month later, he raped her. "Then there
was the pain. A breaking and entering when even the senses are torn apart"
(Angelou 78). "I thought I had died – I woke up in a white-walled world, and
it had to be heaven" (Angelou 78). And again, he told her that if she told
anyone, he would kill Baily. Maya hid the bloody panties under her bed so that
no one would find them. When Baily was changing the sheets, he found them. Maya
was taken to the hospital. There, Baily asked who raped her, but she told him
that if she tells anyone, the person would kill him. He convinced her to tell
him because if she did not, he would go out and rape other little girls. Right
there, Baily started crying for her, then, Maya too, started crying. This was
the last time he saw him cry in 15 years. Knowing who raped his sister, Baily
told Grandmother Baxter that Mr. Freeman raped Maya. Soon later, Mr. Freeman was
arrested. In court, the judge asked Maya if Mr. Freeman has ever touched her
before the raping, but she replied, "No." She felt that she had to say no
because she was convinced that she had helped him do it the first time. Thinking
back to the incident, Maya started tearing, she stood up and yelled, "Ole,
mean, dirty thing, you. Dirty old thing." Mr. Freeman was given one year and
one day in prison. But someone, his lawyer maybe, got him out that day. Feeling
responsible for this, and convinced that everything was her fault, she stopped
talking to people, except for Baily. There was a boxing match of Joe Lewis, a
black man, against a white man. This fight determined how blacks were looked at
from then on. If Lewis lost, blacks would be thought of as lower than whites.

The announcer said that Lewis was in the corner taking a beating. It did not
look good for him. "My race groaned. It was our people falling. It was another
lynching, yet another Black man hanging on a tree. One more woman ambushed and
raped. A Black boy whipped and maimed. It was hounds on the trail of a man
running through slimy swamps. It was a white woman slapping her maid for being
forgetful" (Angelou 135). Then Lewis recovered, and now he was mad! He swung
punches left and right. The white’s eye was bleeding, and he could not do
anything to protect himself. Finally, he fell. The referee counted, "One, two,
three, four, five, six, seven", the man tried to get up, but was unsuccessful.

"Eight, nine, ten. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner!" After reading a
book about lesbians, then watching a friend, a girl, take off her shirt, Maya
questioned if she liked men or women. She decided to ask a boy in her grade to
have sex with her to see if she enjoyed it. He agreed to, and three weeks later,
she found out that she was pregnant. She decided to wait until after she
graduated high school to tell her mother about it. Shortly after, she gave birth
to a baby boy, who she named Clyde. When Maya wrote this novel, she had a lot on
her mind about the hardships of her life. Between being hated for her color,
raped, and abused for doing something wrong, Maya’s life was very complicated.

Although all of this happened to her, she did not let it effect her life too
much, and now she is a very successful writer.


Angelou, Maya. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. New York: Bantam Books, 1969.

Net Locker Room, The. "A short biography on Maya Angelou." 23 June 1999.
(10 Oct. 1999) Biography. "Maya Angelou."
(10 Oct. 1999)