Dr. Maya Angelou’s Legacy through the National Archives
This post is dedicated to the memory of Maya Angelou – born April 4, 1928.
Maya Angelou was a revered American author, poet, activist, holder of many other occupations, and icon. The impact and power of her words were immediately felt with the publication of her first autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), and continued through five additional volumes, works of poetry, lectures, and recitations of works spanning almost half a century. Although never attending college, she was honored with so many degrees, the title of Doctor had become natural to bestow on Ms. Angelou.
Because Dr. Angelou’s work was so far reaching, she often found herself in front of a national audience or at an event of enough significance to be recorded by the federal government.
Here, on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, and into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
With hope —
At the conclusion of the reading of her poem “On the Pulse of Morning,” Maya Angelou entered rare company as the second poet to recite at a presidential inauguration – the 1993 inauguration of President Bill Clinton.
Another moment in history was captured when Maya Angelou participated in the dedication of the African Burial Ground National Monument in New York City in 2007. This event was captured in the Photographs Relating to the Secretary of the Interior’s Trips, Speeches, and Other Functions from Record Group 48. In the file unit that relates to the dedication of the African Burial Ground, there are over 200 photographs recording the appearances of Dr. Angelou, Avery Brooks, Sidney Potier, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and others (NAID 7909528). In her remarks at the ceremony, Dr. Angelou said “Today, it’s African-Americans, because the playing field has not been evened. But it could have been Asian Americans. It could be a cemetery for Jewish Americans, or a Muslim, Islamic Americans. It could be a Native American cemetery. It is imperative that each of us knows that we own this country because we’ve already been paid for.”
Many recent obituaries have noted the many occupations Dr. Angelou had in her lifetime, among them calypso singer, dancer, newspaper editor, streetcar conductor, and madam. She also had a stint as part of the travelling troupe that brought Porgy and Bess to Europe, and eventually behind the Iron Curtain. Maya Angelou won the part of Ruby and toured with the company for one or two years in the early 1950s (this time period of her life is recounted in the autobiography Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas (1976)). Although not completely sponsored by the Department of State, the United States Information Agency (RG 306) did report on the reception the African American opera received abroad. File units in the series’ Program Subject Files, 1954-1957 (NAID 6117828) and Records Relating to Labor and Minorities (NAID 1254479) provide coverage of the troupe Maya Angelou toured with.
Dr. Maya Angelou passed away the morning of May 28th at the age of 86.