Maya Angelou, a Social Commentator Who Sang to Generations of Readers, Refused to Be Pigeonholed; It Was a Masterful Operation, Probably Unique in World History

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 29, 2014 | Go to article overview

Maya Angelou, a Social Commentator Who Sang to Generations of Readers, Refused to Be Pigeonholed; It Was a Masterful Operation, Probably Unique in World History


Byline: Deborah Simmons, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Maya Angelou could not be pigeonholed.

A girl of many voices, she silenced herself following a domestic rape and lived to make a new name for herself by writing about it in "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings."

A single mother of many talents, she broke away from the shackles of racism, sexism and prostitution and then sang and danced about it.

One of her brothers in the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr., was assassinated on her 40th birthday, but she never wavered.

Always the memoirist, historian and social commentator, a woman of many perspectives, she left liberals shaking their heads when, in 1991, she explained why blacks should support the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.

An uber social commentator of many perspectives, she was adorned with awards and accolades, and she wore them all well.

In her wake, hardly an unkind word has been said of this Southern woman who, more than two decades after creating a literary storm with "I Know" -- which was colored with the Great Depression and the twin bigotries of racism and sexism -- again used her voice in defense of Mr. Thomas, a fellow Southerner who was poised to become only the second black to be seated on the U.S. Supreme Court.

The tenor of her reasoning left little, if any room, for debate: "Today, the African-American community whirls in eddies of debate, demolition, disagreement, accusation and calumny over the matter of whether an African-American man with a lamentable reputation and impressive credentials should be seated on the highest court in the land. Thomas has demonstrated that he is as conservative as the president and the administration [or] else he would not have been selected. The African-American savants know that, and we know as well that if efforts to scuttle his appointment are successful, another conservative possibly more harmful, and one who has neither our history nor culture in common with us, will be seated firmly on the bench till death rules otherwise."

That was Maya Angelou, an American storyteller who contextualized life to create a powerful way forward. …

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