Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
This Feb. 15, 2005 photo by biologist Craig S. Hood, shows a Mexican free-tailed bat _ the species that is roosting in a Shreveport, La., police station, during a survey of mamals at the Barataria Unit of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve in Marrero, La. Authorities say the stink sent about 30 police officers and nine Caddo Parish sheriff’s deputies to temporary offices, though some moved back after tests found no health hazard. Pest control contractor Chris Baez says they can’t be evicted until mid-July, when babies will be flying out to feed rather than waiting indoors for their mothers’ milk. (AP Photo/Loyola University of New Orleans, Craig S. Hood)
Poet Maya Angelou remembered: ‘God loaned her His voice’
First Published Jun 07 2014 07:34 pm • Last Updated Jun 07 2014 07:34 pm

Winston-Salem, N.C. • Maya Angelou liked to say that people will forget what you said or did in your life, but they will never forget how you made them feel. Former President Bill Clinton, first lady Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey said Saturday they were among the millions touched by Angelou’s wisdom when they needed help to rise.

Family and friends, both famous and anonymous, gathered Saturday to remember one of the 20th century’s most famous black writers. Amid tears, laughter, and gospel singing, they met at Wake Forest University, where she taught for 32 years though she never graduated from college. Dr. Angelou, as she liked to be addressed out of respect for all the honorary degrees she received, died May 28 at age 86.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

Hers was a remarkable life, linking worlds of civil rights, poetry, acting and teaching — those present recalled at the 2-hour-long tribute.

"We could just all be up here talking about how Maya Angelou represented a big piece of American history. And triumphed over adversity. And proved how dumb racism is," Clinton said at the private memorial service. "But her great gift in her action-packed life was she was always paying attention. And from the time she starting writing her books and her poetry, what she was basically doing was calling our attention to the things she’d been paying attention to. And she did it with a clarity and power that will wash over people as long as there is a written and spoken language."

The words of the indomitable woman, who Clinton said seemed to pack five lifetimes into one, changed a little black girl on the south side of Chicago whose Malibu Barbie doll was the standard of female perfection.

"Her voice lifted me right out of my own little head," Obama told those gathered in the wooden pews of the main campus chapel. A large photo of her husband awarding Angelou the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011 hung from the campus chapel’s oak wall.

The first lady added, "She told us that our worth has nothing to do with what the world might say. Instead, she said, each of us comes from the Creator trailing wisps of glory. She reminded us that we must each find our own voice, decide our own value, and then announce it to the world with all the pride and joy that is our birthright as members of the human race."

Tall and majestic, Angelou added heft to her spoken words with a deep and sonorous voice. She once described herself as a poet in love with "the music of language." She recited the most popular presidential inaugural poem in history, "On the Pulse of Morning," when Clinton opened his first term in 1993.

Clinton remembered that voice, and how Angelou chose not to speak for five years after she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend as a child.

"She was without a voice for five years and then she developed the greatest voice on the planet. God loaned her His voice," Clinton said. "She had the voice of God. And he decided he wanted it back."


story continues below
story continues below

Winfrey said the close and constant friend she met before becoming a talk show host could shake her out of bouts of self-doubt. Angelou taught her to look beyond trouble and spot the rainbow in the clouds, Winfrey said.

"Maya Angelou is the greatest woman I have ever known," Winfrey said, then almost sobbing: "She was my anchor. So it’s hard to describe to you what it means when your anchor shifts."

Winfrey and Obama, seated next to each other in the chapel’s front row, swayed in unison as Grammy-winning gospel singer Bobby Jones prompted hands to wave and clap. Actor and producer Tyler Perry assisted actress Cicely Tyson and former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young to the podium before country singer Lee Ann Womack drew cheers with her hit "I Hope You Dance."

Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis and raised in Stamps, Arkansas, and San Francisco. Her life included writing poetry by age 9, giving birth as a single mother by 17, and becoming San Francisco’s first black streetcar conductor. She also danced at a strip joint, sang on records, acted alongside James Earl Jones and earned a Tony nomination for her work on Broadway. She wrote music and plays, received an Emmy nomination for her acting in the 1970s TV miniseries "Roots" and danced with Alvin Ailey.

Angelou also worked as a coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and lived for years in Egypt and Ghana, where she met South African liberation pioneer Nelson Mandela. In 1968, she was helping the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. organize the Poor People’s March in Memphis, Tennessee, where the civil rights leader was slain on Angelou’s 40th birthday.

Her son, Guy Johnson, said Angelou’s last decade was filled with pain — the toll of her career as a professional dancer and respiratory failure. She was bound to a wheelchair and oxygen tanks. Still, she was able to write four more books, had all of her mental faculties, and died quietly in her sleep.

"There is no mourning here," he said.

———

Emery Dalesio can be reached at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio

———

Associated Press Writer Jeffrey Collins contributed to this report from Columbia, South Carolina.



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.