Remembering Maya Angelou

TAMPA, FL—Maya Angelou, a world renowned African poet and author who once worked with Malcolm X to build the OAAU, helped to found the Cultural Association for Women of African Heritage (CAWAH) and joined forces with Martin Luther King, Jr. to build the SCLC, died on May 28, 2014. She was 86 years old.

Maya’s politics were not that of Uhuru Movement, nor was her message one of the liberation of Africa and African people won through revolution. The courage reflected in Maya’s defiant character and almost always expressed in her written and spoken works, however, clearly represent important elements of our struggle.

Maya’s writings were mainly about her personal experiences—often tragic or painful ones. Nonetheless, the words she used when she unashamedly shared her stories stirred up images and emotions that connect with the material conditions of almost every working class African.

Maya dared to make the world know her as a “Phenomenal Woman,” despite the fact that by her account she was “not cute or built to fit a fashion model’s size.”

Art that encourages defiant strength and confidence—especially in African women who have to contend with being force fed white people’s standard of beauty every day from birth—is necessary.
Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” although written about her personally overcoming the tragedy of rape, echoed the same cry for “freedom” every oppressed African groans because of our miserable colonial condition that rapes, robs, maims and kills us.

Maya was not just defiant with her words. One of her most defiant moments was the move she and CAWAH members made on the United Nations in protest of African revolutionary, Patrice Lumumba’s, assassination.

According to an Adam Serwer article on, Maya recalled disrupting the United Nations meeting “shouting, “Murderers. Killers. Assassins.” Suddenly the assembly room was in chaos, echoing the larger crowd of protestors outside the building.”
Maya demanded respect.

Check it. She never got a college degree, but she demanded to be called Dr. Maya Angelou. This fact makes it clear that she believed the work she put in to educate herself, including learning several languages, and her experiences teaching at the university level earned that esteem.

Sure, there are things about Maya that can and should be criticized. That’s not the point of this piece, though. This piece is written because we realize that it is important for the African working class to tell our own stories.

If we don’t tell our stories ourselves, white people and petty bourgeois negroes will hijack the legacies of our people and, like Malcolm said, have us thinking our “friends are our enemies and our enemies are our friends.”

Salute to Maya Angelou!

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