Maya Angelou: A Prevailing Legacy of Art and Activism

Jahshua Hardy-Everett, Contributor

On February 15, 2011, actress, American poet, and Civil Rights activist Maya Angelou received the 2010 Medal of Freedom from Former President Barack Obama.

According to Obama, she received the award: “By holding on even amid cruelty and loss, and then expanding to a sense of compassion – an ability to love. By holding on to her humanity, she has inspired countless others who have known injustice and misfortune in their own lives.”

Angelou was known for her outstanding roles in movies such as Porgy and Bess, Poetic Justice, and the more popular Madea’s Family Reunion. She was also a Civil Rights Activist, and served as the Northern Coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1959.

She worked with many known activists such as Doctor Martin Luther King Junior and Malcolm X. In the 1970s, she was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for her first anthology of public poems Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie (1971).

The poems speak about her work as an influencer in the Civil Rights Movement from 1965-1968. From 1961 to 1962, Angelou was an associate editor for The Arab Observer in Cairo, Egypt. From 1964 to 1966, she was the feature editor of the African Review in Ghana. Angelou’s famous autobiography: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, has been widely praised.

According to the New York Times, her book was the first by an African American woman to garner widespread readership. She has received the Presidential Medal of the Arts, the Lincoln Medal, and the Literary Arts Award from former First Lady Michelle Obama at the BET awards in Washington D.C.

Angelou is also known for her ethereal poetry. Her poem Still I Rise talks about how even though times are hard, she can overcome any obstacle through her self-confidence and self-motivation.

A line from her poem reads: “You may shoot me with your words, you may cut me with your eyes, you may kill me with your hatefulness, but still, like air, I’ll rise.”

Angelou was the first African American woman to direct in Hollywood. Starting in 1971, She wrote, produced, and starred in many events for television, film, and stage. One of Angelou’s most famous screenplays that she wrote was Georgia, Georgia. The movie follows a singer who falls in love with a white U.S. photographer in Sweden.

Angelou also was nominated for two Tony awards. First for her Broadway debut in Look Look (1971), and again for her role in Roots (1977). Angelou passed away on May 28, 2014, in North Carolina where she served as a Professor in American Studies at Wake Forest University since 1982.

Most people know Angelou for her poetry, screenwriting, and acting. But what they don’t know is that she was one of the people who helped the history of African Americans today. Her legacy will live on for generations of African American poets and actors and actresses to come.