As an award winning poet and artist, Maya Angelou was a creative soul who was fluent in six different languages. She was the first African-American female member of the Directors Guild of America and she even won 3 Grammy awards for her work. After being sent to live with her grandmother after her parents divorced in 1931 and being raped by her mother’s new boyfriend, her early years were not that of a typical childhood. Yet these interesting facts about Angelou show what a courageous woman she really was.
1. She Refused to Speak for 5 Years
The sexual abuse that she experienced was traumatic enough, but the man who did these unspeakable acts to her only served 1 day in jail for them. Four days after his release, however, he was found dead. Although nothing has ever been proven, it is believed that Angelou’s family was responsible for the death. Maya blamed herself and refused to speak for 5 years so that she wouldn’t cause others to get in trouble and potentially cause their death as well.
2. School Wasn’t Her Thing
Like many creative people, Angelou really struggled with the structured concepts of school. She even was awarded a scholarship to study drama and dance, but chose to drop out of high school instead. Maya got a job and became the first African-American female cable car conductor in San Francisco. Eventually she came back to school, earned her high school diploma, and did so while pregnant with her first and only child.
3. She Supported Cuba
Angelou was not afraid of a controversial opinion. She was in her 20’s during the McCarthy hunts for socialist and Communist sympathizers and although she often kept her opinion to herself, she was very blunt in a book that was published in 1981. She said that African-Americans supported Russia and Cuba because Communism didn’t put her people into slavery. No Communist lynched a mother or a father because they were black. Her first published story was actually in a Cuban periodical.
4. Instrumental in Civil Rights
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference was founded by Martin Luther King, Jr. to advocate nonviolent protests and voter registration drives. Angelou was a leader within this organization, even organizing a 5 week show that raised a lot of needing funding. She was called on to lead a march in 1968, but this was postponed after MLK was assassinated. Maya even refused to celebrate her birthday for several years because of the memories from those moments.
5. She Loved to Sing and Dance
In 1957, Angelou actually recorded a musical album that was based on Calypso music. Called Miss Calypso, it led to a Broadway review two years later that allowed her to sing some of her own work. At one point, she even teamed up with a dance partner to perform professionally, but the combination never made it passed the regional stage.
Maya Angelou is an influential figure of American history, even if her name may not always be instantly recognized. These interesting facts about her help to establish the foundation of who she was, but the rest you’ll just have to read for yourself through her various published works.