Social Justice Activists | Maya Angelou


Maya Angelou photoMaya Angelou (originally Marguerite Annie Johnson) was born on April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri.  Due to a tumultuous and difficult childhood, Angelou stopped speaking for five years.  When she began to speak again, she was in high school and excelled in her studies of dance and drama.  During her senior year, she got pregnant and became a single mother.

In 1952, she married Anastasios Angelopulos.  Around the same time, she became a nightclub singer and took on the professional name of Maya Angelou.  Her marriage did not last, but her career soared.  She composed song lyrics and poems for several years and eventually moved to New York joining the Harlem Writers Guild.  It was here that she took her place amongst numerous young black writers associated with the Civil Rights Movement.  For many years, she travelled abroad honing her writing skills and strengthening her propensity for political activism.

In 1964, Angelou returned to America and began her work with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Upon his assassination in 1968, she turned to writing to deal with her grief.  And so began what would become a critically acclaimed success, her book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, chronicling her childhood.

Angelou became a national figure.  Her increasing popularity and notoriety, led her to teach and lecture.  She also wrote the screenplay and composed the score for the film Georgia, Georgia (1972), which was the first by an African American woman to ever be filmed and went on to subsequently be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.  Angelou received several invitations from successive Presidents of the United States, such as Presidents Ford, Carter and Clinton, to serve in various roles. 

In 2000, Angelou received the Presidential Medal of the Arts.  In 2008, she received the Ford’s Theatre Lincoln Medal.  In 2011, President Barack Obama awarded her the highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Angelou published over 30 titles and received over 50 honorary degrees during her career.  Angelou died on May 28, 2014. 



Source used:

Maya Angelou biography. (May 2014). Retrieved from