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African American Lives 2 -- Hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
In Search of Our Roots -- Buy the companion book now from ShopPBS
Maya Angelou

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Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Linda Johnson Rice Don Cheadle Chris Rock Tom Joyner Peter Gomes Maya Angelou Morgan Freeman Jackie Joyner-Kersee Tina Turner Katheleen Henderson Bliss Broyard
Maya Angelou is a celebrated poet and best-selling memoirist, as well as an actress, a Grammy award-winning creator of spoken-word albums, and a key figure in the Civil Rights Movement. Her work includes the autobiographical novels I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970) winner of the National Book Award, The Heart of a Woman (1981), and A Song Flung Up To Heaven (2002), as well as books of poetry including Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'Fore I Diiie (1971), nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, I Shall Not Be Moved (1990) and A Brave Startling Truth (1995).

Milestones in Maya Angelou's ancestry:

  • 1928 Maya Angelou is born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri. About growing up during segregation, she says "In so many ways, segregation shaped me, and education liberated me." Angelou and her brother are raised by her grandmother, Annie Henderson, in Stamps, Arkansas.

  • 1942 Maya Angelou's great grandmother Emilyn Johnson dies. Her obituary makes the front page of the local paper in Camden, Arkansas:
    "Emilyn Johnson, former Negro slave said to be 150 years old died Friday night at her home 6 miles southwest of Camden. She was born in what is now Union County then moved to Camden many years ago. She was married to Simon Johnson in slavery time who died some time ago. The Negro woman lived through four wars. She could see good and lived in good health until a few months ago."

  • 1968 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is killed in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4. The day is also Maya Angelou's birthday, and she worked with King as a coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

  • 1969 Maya Angelou's autobiographical novel I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is published and emphasizes the experience of African American women in society.

  • Put Maya Angelou's life and ancestry in historical context with the Interactive Historical Timeline.


    Major corporate funding for African American Lives 2 and its outreach initiatives is provided by The Coca-Cola Company and Johnson & Johnson. Additional corporate funding is provided by Buick.
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