America lost a legend on Wednesday with the passing of poet, author, and activist Maya Angelou at her Winston-Salem, NC home.
Born Marguerite Ann Johnson in St. Louis on April 4, 1928, Angelou experienced a very tumultuous childhood--not unfamiliar to African Americans in the south during that time.
As a teenager, she became San Francisco's first African American streetcar conductor before giving birth to her first child at the age of 17.
For years, she worked in nightclubs around New York and San Francisco as a dancer and singer, where she adopted her stage name, Maya Angelou.
As a performer, author and activist, Angelou has been a household name in the arts for decades, but most notably for her works in poetry, producing great poems such as "Why the Caged Bird Sings", "A Brave and Startling Truth", and "Still I Rise" (Read the full poem below)
Listen: Ben Harper Performs Maya Angelou Poem
Still I Rise
by Maya Angelou
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.