A legend passed a few days ago, a legend whom I had heard of but knew nothing of. Maya Angelou was a giant, residing 30-minutes from my home in Greensboro, passing early on May, 29th, in Winston-Salem, NC. For a moment this morning we all became unified (Twitter and Facebook worlds), her passing was mourned by millions of people tweeting quotes, posting pictures and discussing their encounters with the humble giant. Yet I was silent this day.
All I could muster was a Retweet (RT) of a quote that resonated with me but that was it. Yet even my most apolitical friends and social media people had something to say but not I. I was never taught who Maya Angelou was or what she did, until she passed, but I had innumerable opportunities to learn, choosing not to take them, I do feel a bit of regret today. She came to my school to speak but I turned down the chance to see her, for whatever reason, but that is not my main form of regret instead it is I chose not to learn about her because she wasn’t a black man.
I like to think of myself as not only an avid reader of black liberation struggles but also a feminist ally. Yet I know the life, politics, works and anything else of Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, Martin Luther King but none of Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer or even Maya Angelou. At the root of this problem is misogyny -Yes I do consider myself misogynistic- but fighting it every single day.
Unconsciously I know that I have a belief that these black men were the ‘heroes’ of the Civil Rights and Black Liberation movement, yet, as a Historian (in-training) I know this to be false, if it weren’t for black women the CRM wouldn’t have been nearly as successful. Albeit, I know I am not the only one who has made mistakes like this but as a leftist, claiming to uplift all oppressed peoples, I of all people should have known better.
So, when she passed away I found out more about her than I still do of many of heroines of the movement. She was a Pan-African, who supported the liberation of Mumia Abu-Jamal, friends with Malcolm X and Fidel Castro, she used her poetry and oratory to uplift, oppressed peoples of this nation. She was a humble giant, dedicated, lovable but never too serious. She had a past that some would consider ‘unholy’ or which tarnished her reputation, she was a sex worker, but not to me. She was one of the greatest to ever write but she was all but forgotten until her untimely passing.
Her revolutionary teachings made black boys feel like kings, and black women as queens. She was unequivocally herself, she knew no bounds but that is a good thing.
So today that I honor her life and presence, I have to look back in shame at my overtly sexist mind to see that this women inspired millions with her words, touch. laugh and smile and she deserves to rest in peace and power.
Whether she registered a million voters or none, whether she was a sex worker or not, whether she was black nationalist or not, we all can rejoice in these simple words: she was one hundred percent herself.