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Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise

First feature documentary on the author/activist includes exclusive interviews with Dr. Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, Common, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and others

Distinctly referred to as “a redwood tree, with deep roots in American culture,” Dr. Maya Angelou (April 4, 1928-May 28, 2014) led a prolific life. As a singer, dancer, activist, poet and writer, she inspired generations with lyrical modern African-American thought that pushed boundaries. Best known for her autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Random House), she gave people the freedom to think about their history in a way they never had before.

With unprecedented access, filmmakers Bob Hercules and Rita Coburn Whack trace Dr. Angelou’s incredible journey, shedding light on the untold aspects of her life through never-before-seen footage, rare archival photographs and videos and her own words. From her upbringing in the Depression-era South and her early performing career (1957’s Miss Calypso album and Calypso Heat Wave film, Jean Genet’s 1961 play The Blacks) to her work with Malcolm X in Ghana and her many writing successes, including her inaugural poem for President Bill Clinton, American Masters – Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise reveals hidden facets of her life during some of America’s most defining moments. The film also features exclusive interviews with Dr. Angelou, her friends and family, including Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Common, Alfre Woodard, Cicely Tyson, Quincy Jones, Hillary Clinton, Louis Gossett, Jr., John Singleton, Diahann Carroll, Valerie Simpson, Random House editor Bob Loomis and Dr. Angelou’s son, Guy Johnson.

“It was a unique privilege to be the first filmmakers to tell Dr. Angelou’s full story and exciting to uncover stories that most people hadn’t heard,” said co-director and co-producer Bob Hercules (American Masters – Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance, American Masters – Bill T. Jones: A Good Man, Forgiving Dr. Mengele).

“The film reflects on how the events of history, culture and the arts shaped Dr. Angelou’s life, and how she, in turn, helped shape our own worldview through her autobiographical literature and activism,” said co-director and co-producer Rita Coburn Whack (Curators of Culture, Remembering 47th Street, African Roots American Soil).

“It is bittersweet that Dr. Angelou takes her rightful place in the American Masters series posthumously,” said executive producer Michael Kantor. “We are fortunate that Bob and Rita captured these insightful interviews with her just prior to her death so we can all learn from her wisdom firsthand.”

Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise premiered to critical acclaim at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. It won the Audience Award at AFI Docs and was featured at notable film festivals worldwide, including Full Frame, Sheffield, IDFA and Seattle, winning 17 awards on three continents, and has been nominated for an NAACP Image Award.

Launched in 1986, American Masters has earned 28 Emmy Awards — including 10 for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series and five for Outstanding Non-Fiction Special — 12 Peabodys, an Oscar, three Grammys, two Producers Guild Awards and many other honors. The series’ 31st season on PBS features new documentaries about Patsy Cline (March), Chef James Beard (May 19) and Chef Jacques Pépin (May 26). To further explore the lives and works of masters past and present, the American Masters website (http://pbs.org/americanmasters) offers streaming video of select films, outtakes, filmmaker interviews, educational resources and In Their Own Words: The American Masters Digital Archive: previously unreleased interviews of luminaries discussing America’s most enduring artistic and cultural giants as well as the American Masters Podcast. The series is a production of THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC for WNET and also seen on the WORLD channel.

American Masters – Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise is a co-production of The People’s Poet Media Group, LLC, THIRTEEN’s American Masters for WNET, and ITVS in association with Artemis Rising. Bob Hercules and Rita Coburn Whack are directors. David E. Simpson and Lillian E. Benson are editors. Keith Walker is director of photography, with original music by Stephen James Taylor. Rita Coburn Whack, Bob Hercules, Jay Alix and Una Jackman are producers. Reuben Cannon, Marquetta Glass, Steve Sarowitz, Michael Kantor, Regina Scully, Chris Gardner, Raymond Lambert, Susan Lacy and Sally Jo Fifer are executive producers. Michael Kantor is American Masters series executive producer.


Funding for Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise is provided by IDP Foundation, Ford Foundation/Just Films, National Endowment for the Arts, National Black Programming Consortium, Anne Ulnick, Michael Metelits, and Loida and Leslie Lewis.

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Major support for American Masters is provided by AARP. Additional funding is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Rosalind P. Walter, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, Judith and Burton Resnick, Ellen and James S. Marcus, Vital Projects Fund, Lillian Goldman Programming Endowment, The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, Michael & Helen Schaffer Foundation and public television viewers.

Transcript Print

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ -We may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated.

But, in fact, it may be necessary to encounter defeat so we can know who the hell we are.

What can we overcome?

What makes us stumble and fall and somehow miraculously rise... and go on?

[ Cheers and applause ] ♪ I open my mouth ♪ To the Lord, and I ♪ Won't turn back, no ♪ I will go ♪ I shall go ♪ To see what the end is gonna be ♪ ♪♪ -Maya was a dancer.

She sang. She was an actress.

-And still be your grandmother!

-And, of course, she was a writer.

So she was a consummate performer.

And I think that, for whatever else it is, this is a life lived onstage.

-Lift up your heart and say simply... 'Good morning.'

[ Applause ] -You have a woman who is like a tree trunk.

You know what I mean? She's like a redwood.

And she has deep, deep roots within American culture.

-I remember setting down and opening a book and feeling like I'm breathing for the first time.

-She was able to go way back and remember... in a very meaningful way, things that I think she never told anybody.

-Maya was responsible for teaching me why I should know more about my roots.

I remember her being angry, very angry.

-I would hate to see her just remembered for one thing.

The phenomenal woman is not just the title of something she wrote.

It's who she was.

♪♪ -The caged bird sings with a fearful trill of things unknown but longed for still.

And his tune is heard on the distant hill, for the caged bird sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze.

And the trade winds soft through the sighing trees and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn and he names the sky his own.

But a bird that stalks down his narrow cage can seldom see through his bars of rage.

His feet are tied, his wings are clipped, so he opens his throat to sing.

My father was Bailey Johnson, and at 16, he left home -- he left this little village in the South.

Went to World War I and came back much too grand for his skin.

But he was handsome. He spoke French.

He was debonair, and he would have been lynched in the South.

So he became a doorman at a swank hotel in Los Angeles.

My mother was a very pretty woman from St. Louis... and who loved him quite a lot.

They were absolutely too volatile to be together.

But she was a very bright woman and very courageous.

One of the first memories I have, I was 3 years old and my brother, Bailey, 5.

My father and mother had agreed to disagree.

And neither of them wanted the problems of having two toddlers.

So they put us on a train and sent us from Los Angeles to Arkansas with tags on our arms, no adult supervision.

Pullman car porters took us off trains, put us on other trains.

And we arrived in Stamps -- a little village in Arkansas about the size of this room.

I thought it was the worst thing when I just declared my mother dead so that I wouldn't have to long for her.

Yes, that was terrible rejection.

My brother has never recovered.

My grandmother owned the only black-owned store in that little village.

And she had one more child, my Uncle Willie.

She was a child of a former slave.

Amazing.

I think my grandmother started teaching me to read that afternoon when we arrived.

And a black lady in town had some connection with the white school, so she brought books from the white school.

And Bailey would read them, and I would read them.

My brother, Bailey, taught me, 'Just learn everything.

Put it in your brain.

You're smarter than everybody around here -- except me, of course.'

And he was right. He was smart.

But he was also protective of me.

[ Train horn blowing, clacking ] In my memory, Stamps was a place of light, shadow, sounds, and entrancing odors.

The yellowish acid of the ponds and rivers, the deep pots of greens cooking for hours with smoked or cured pork, and above all, the atmosphere was pressed down with the smell of old fears.

Is that all the size of the bridge?

[ Laughs ] I was terribly hurt in this town.

And... vastly loved.

My grandmother never spent money on anything but land.

She owned land.

And a lot of poor whites lived on land we owned.

One day, three white girls came down into the clearing in front of the store, and they said, 'Hello, Annie,' hello to my grandmother.

And Mama said, 'Hello, Miss Elaine.

Hello, miss,' whatever their names were.

And one girl told the other, she said, 'Stand on your hands.'

And she stood on her hands and had no drawers on.

And her dress fell down around her.

And she showed herself to my grandmother.

Oh, I couldn't stand it. Mama started singing... ♪ By and by I found that I was praying, too.

How long could Mama hold out?

What new indignity would they think of to subject her to?

And she stood there until the girls went on and walked on past the store and into town.

Uncle Willie was crippled.

His whole right side was paralyzed.

My Uncle Willie taught me my times tables.

He'd say, 'Now, sister, do your foursies, do your sevensies, do your elevensies.'

I learned my multiplication tables exquisitely.

And when the boys, as they were euphemistically called, when the Klan would ride down the hill toward the store... -Maya?

Bailey Jr.? Both of you!

-...we had to hide Uncle Willie.

-The potatoes, the onions.

-'Cause a white girl could say, 'Well, he made an attempt to touch me.'

-It just shouldn't be.

-We had to help Uncle Willie to get down in the bin.

And we'd cover him with potatoes and onions.

And I could just picture his tears going into the eyes of the potatoes.

The Klan would ride up in front of the store.

Bailey and I would peek out the window.

Tall horses that looked so big.

They didn't look like horses you see every day.

Big guns.

So one of my fantasies when I was, oh, 7 -- 6 or 7 was that suddenly there'd be -- somebody would say, 'Shazam!'

And I would be white.

And I wouldn't be looked at with such loathing when I walked in the white part of town, which I had to do.

You really wish either that you could dry up in the moment and just shrivel up like that.

And instead of that, I'd put my head up and walk through, grit my teeth.

Surviving, but, my God, what scars does that leave on somebody?

I wouldn't -- I don't even dare examine it myself.

And when I reached for the pen... -To write? -To write.

...I have to scrape it across those scars to sharpen that point.

If growing up is painful for the Southern black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat.

It is an unnecessary insult.

[ Up-tempo jazz music plays ] And then at about 6 or 7, my father took me and my brother, Bailey, back to St. Louis, to my mother, to her family.

She had left California after they separated.

The Negro section of St. Louis in the mid-'30s had all the finesse of a gold-rush town.

Prohibition, gambling, and their related vocations were so obviously practiced that it was hard for me to believe that they were against the law.

My mother had record players and jazz and blues songs, and it was amazing.

And she danced.

She wore lipstick and -- Oh, my grandmother would never do anything like that.

My mother's boyfriend was intoxicated with my mother.

In his rage at his inability to control her and have her when he wanted her, he raped me.

I was 7.

The act of rape is the matter of the needle giving because the camel cannot.

The child gives because the body can and the mind of the violator cannot.

I told the name of the rapist to my brother, who was 9.

I said, 'I can't tell you his name because he said he would kill you.'

He said, 'I won't let him.'

So I believed him.

The man was put in jail for one day and night and released.

And a few days later, the police came to my mother's mother's house and said the man had been found dead.

And it seemed he'd been kicked to death.

My 7-year-old logic told me that my voice had killed a man.

So I stopped speaking for five years.

I clamped my teeth shut. I'd hold it in.

If I talked to anyone else, that person might die, too.

I had to stop talking.

But I could listen.

I used to think of my whole body as an ear.

I could go into a room and just absorb sound.

My mother's people tried to move me away from my mutism, but they didn't know what I knew.

I knew my voice could kill people.

So it was better not to speak.

I think they wearied of the presence of this sullen, silent child.

So they put me and Bailey back on a train back to Stamps to my grandmother.

And one of the first things I remember was my grandmother braiding my hair.

And my hair was huge.

She said, 'Sister, Mama don't care these people say you must be an idiot or you must be a moron 'cause you can't talk.

Mama don't care.

Mama knows when you and the good Lord get ready, sister, you gonna be a preacher and you gonna a be a teacher.

You gonna teach all over this world.'

I used to sit there and think, 'This poor, ignorant woman.

Doesn't she know I will never speak?'

There was a lady in town, Mrs. Flowers, and she would take me to her house about twice a year.

She made lemonade and tea cookies, big cookies like that in the South.

Delicious!

And she'd serve me.

And she knew I didn't speak.

And she'd read one of the poets to me.

She'd done this with me for three or four years.

And, finally, I was at her house one day, and she said, 'Maya, you don't like poetry.'

Oh, I said yes, but she wouldn't even pick up my tablet.

She wouldn't look at it.

And then she pointed at me, and she was a grand and gentile lady.

She said, 'You'll never like it until you speak it, until you feel it come across your tongue, over your teeth, through your lips.

You will never like it.'

So, finally, I went under the house where there used to be chickens and the dirt was soft like powder.

And I tried poetry.

♪♪ Now, to show you how out of evil there can come good, in those five years, I read every book in the black school library.

I read all the books I could get from the white school library.

I memorized James Weldon Johnson, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Countee Cullen, and Langston Hughes.

I memorized Shakespeare -- whole plays.

50 sonnets.

I memorized Edgar Allan Poe, all the poetry.

I had Longfellow.

I had Guy de Maupassant. I had Balzac.

When I decided to speak, I had a lot to say.

I have written a poem for a woman who rides a bus in New York City.

She's a maid.

She has two shopping bags.

When the bus stops abruptly, she laughs.

If the bus stops slowly, she laughs.

I thought, 'Mmm, uh-huh.'

Now, if you don't know black features, you may think she's laughing.

But she wasn't laughing.

She was simply extending her lips and making a sound.

[ Laughs ] I said, 'Oh, I see.'

That's that survival apparatus.

Now, let me write about that to honor this woman who helps us to survive.

70 years in these folks' world, the child I works for calls me girl.

I say [Laughs] 'Yes, ma'am'... for working's sake.

I'm too proud to bend and too poor to break.

So [Chuckles] I laugh... until my stomach ache when I think about myself.

My folks can make me split my side.

I laugh so hard [Laughs] I nearly died.

The tales they tell sound just like lying.

They grow the fruit but eat the rind.

Hmm. [ Chuckles ] I laugh.

[ Laughs ] Until I start to cry.

When I think about myself.

[ Laughing ] [ Sobs ] ♪♪ -A painting of Maya is to be placed in the Smithsonian Institute.

It's quite an honor.

-Thank you. Thank you.

-Miss Angelou? -Yes, sir?

-Oh, my goodness gracious!

How are you, girl?

[ Indistinct talking ] -I wish my grandmother, who died 50 years ago, I wish she was alive and could see this.

[ Cheers and applause ] Wow!

Oh, my lands!

We have made tremendous gains.

Not nearly as much as we want to.

If I had the power, I would make everybody an African-American.

[ Laughter ] At least for a week.

Know what it's like.

Know what it's like to get on a bus or any public conveyance and have people look at you as if you'd just stolen the baby's milk.

Like, look at you and turn their face away.

And still saying, 'I forgive you.'

I'm not starting any -- I'm not starting any race riots.

I forgive you.

-Yeah!

-And I forgive myself.

My Lord!

-Mmm. -Huh?

-Do it. -And that's it.

My son said, 'Do it, Ma.'

-Yeah.

[ Applause ] -I want to acknowledge the presence of my son.

The greatest thing that ever happened to me was to give birth to Guy Johnson and to have the privilege and the pleasure and the fear and the great and all of that of raising... that black boy in a white country.

I was 16, living in San Francisco.

I was almost six foot.

And there was a boy who used to say, 'Hey, Maya, when you gonna give me some of that long brown frame?'

And so one day I saw him in the street, and I said, 'Say, do you still want?'

He said, 'What?!' And I said, 'Let's go somewhere.'

So he had the keys to a friend's house, and we went there.

And we had sex.

And I thought, 'Is that all there is?'

People making such a big miration.

I had watched people in the movies, and they -- they were just so pleased to be in each other's arms.

I didn't feel any of that.

And I ask him, 'Is that all there is?'

And he said, 'Yeah.'

So I said, 'Okay, bye.'

And I went home.

And a month later, I found I was pregnant.

My mother never made me feel guilty.

She never made me feel ashamed.

She asked me, 'Do you love the boy?'

I said, 'No.' She asked, 'Does he love you?'

I said, 'No.'

She said, 'We're not going to ruin three lives.

You're going to have a beautiful baby.'

And that's just the way she treated him.

And me.

Then a fellow started coming.

He had been a sailor -- Tosh Angelos, a Greek.

I didn't think that white and blacks would get together like that.

But I liked him. He was bright.

He had read as much as I had read.

He had read the Russian writers, and he liked my son.

When he asked me to marry him, his mother said, 'You can't marry her. She's black.'

He said, 'I noticed that first.'

My mother was so disgusted with me.

She moved a 14-room house two days before the wedding 500 miles away.

14 rooms.

But then she fell for him.

He was a good husband. He was a good father.

She fell for him, so a few years later when I said to her, 'I'm leaving him,' she said, 'How can you?

How dare you?'

But I won't stay in a relationship if there's no love there.

In his nine years of schooling, we had lived in five areas of San Francisco, three townships in Los Angeles, New York City, Hawaii, and Cleveland, Ohio.

I followed the jobs, and I had taken Guy along.

-What I remember most when I think of a childhood memory is the fact that she would come to school wearing her African clothes and her hair natural.

And some idiot kid in the class would say, 'Your mama from lost Africa.'

And I'd have to pop him.

And then I would come home, and I would ask my mother, 'Don't you have a sweater/skirt outfit, one of those Penny's things?'

And she would say to me, 'This is your history.

You come from kings and queens.'

And I would look at her, and I would think, 'Yes, it's unfortunate my mother's demented.'

♪♪ My mother was working in nightclubs at the time.

-I had got jobs in strip joints.

I didn't strip, but then I didn't have to.

I had a costumes that was about big enough to put in the palm of my hand like that, so I didn't have much on to strip.

Bands always wanted to play for me because I danced.

The other strippers just walked out and... ♪ Tea for two, and two for tea And take off something and threw it in the audience.

But I would hit it.

And so I met people who invited me out and... And I said, 'Have you heard calypso?'

And they said, 'No.'

So I sang some calypso -- just a cappella.

And they said, 'You should come and open in the Purple Onion.'

So if I would sing, I would make three times the money, and so I stopped dancing as a rule and started singing.

-Maya Angelou!

[ Applause ] -I talked some friends of mine into going to this little club -- late '50s.

And what I remember is Maya making her entrance.

Very tall, very grand, no shoes.

-♪ Moe and Joe run the candy store ♪ ♪ Telling fortunes behind the door ♪ -That she was an original is certainly an understatement.

-♪ He began to shout, 'Run, Joe' ♪ ♪ Hey, the man's at the door -She was exact and refined with her movements.

She was limbs.

I mean, she was a beautiful Giacometti sculpture.

-♪ So you run, Joe ♪ Run, Joe, run, Joe, run, Joe, run, Joe, oh ♪ -At the time, that was the trend in music -- Afro-Caribbean, calypso.

And Maya was known as Miss Calypso.

-♪ Always busy in the marketplace ♪ ♪ Makes me dizzy in the marketplace ♪ ♪ 'Tis a wonder to me to constantly see ♪ ♪ All that happens in the marketplace ♪ ♪ That flower girl has an innocent face ♪ ♪ The most well-bred in the marketplace ♪ ♪ She's a voodoo girl from dusk till dawn ♪ ♪ She'll cast a spell just for fun ♪ -The voice was no great voice, but she knew how to use it.

-♪ 'Tis a wonder to me to constantly see ♪ ♪ All that happens in the marketplace ♪ -♪ All that happens in the marketplace ♪ -We had a dance troupe in Los Angeles called the Lester Horton Dancers.

And we heard that we were to be on a bill with Maya Angelou in Las Vegas.

Now, this was like '56, '57.

At that time, Lena Horne, Belafonte, Sammy Davis, they were all big-name black performers, but they couldn't mingle in the lounges.

They had to perform, go back to their room.

So when we get to Las Vegas, we realize that we're confronting this, you know.

We can't go here, we can't go there.

I mean, we were a diverse company.

We were living on the other side of the tracks.

And there was this little greasy spoon where we could eat.

We were a young company, so we looked to Maya for guidance, and we followed her lead.

And she didn't protest overtly.

She just, you know, I guess made mental notes that this has got to be corrected.

♪♪ -Well, 'Porgy and Bess' came and performed in San Francisco, and someone told me they are looking for a dancer.

So I thought, 'Mmm!'

And they would pay much more, and I'd get a chance to travel around the United States and maybe get the chance to go to Europe.

I auditioned for them, and they accepted me.

I sang the role Ruby, but the truth is, I couldn't really sing.

I mean, I could sing, but I wasn't a trained singer.

I really was a dancer.

And at least once every two or three weeks, one of the singers would say to me, 'Maya, I'm sorry to tell you, but you flatted that 'G.'' Or, 'You flatted that 'A.'' I didn't even know I was singing in the alphabet.

I just sang the role.

-♪ How are you this morning?

-It was a wonderful experience because we went all over the world.

-♪ How are you this morning?

♪ Tell me, how are you on this lovely morning ♪ ♪ Today -We arrived in Morocco, and the conductor said the company was about to perform in concert.

So they chose and they rehearsed, but I had no aria.

So I told the conductor -- Alexander Smallens, and he was Russian.

When I told him I have no aria, he said, 'But don't you at least know one spiritual?'

And I thought, 'Is grits groceries?

Do I know a spiritual?

What?'

And I just grinned... and thought about Stamps, Arkansas, where from the time I was 3, Mama took me to church on Sunday.

Then on Monday evening, we went to missionary meeting.

Tuesday evening, usher boy meeting.

Wednesday evening, prayer meeting.

Thursday evening, choir practice.

We went to church every -- all the time.

And at all those meetings, we sang.

So I told the man, 'Yes, I know a spiritual.'

So I stood on the stage alone and sang... ♪ I am a poor pilgrim of sorrow ♪ ♪ I'm lost in this wide world alone ♪ I sang her song.

When I finished, 4,500 Arabs jumped up and hit the floor and started to shout... [Speaking foreign language] And I looked stage right at the wings where the singers had sung.

And they were looking at me like... So I said, 'I'm sorry. I mean, you sang Puccini and Bach and Beethoven and Haydn, and I sang what W.E.B. Du Bois called the 'Sorrow Songs.'

Songs written not by a free and easy people, not by a leisure class, songs written from the heart, written with their blood, written with the whips and the lash on their back.

When I sung these songs, the people couldn't stop screaming.

Then I began to think, 'Aw, I see.

Now I see.

When the people were passing out the big packets of land and money, my people had none of that to give me.'

But what they gave me -- Look at what they gave me.

My Lord! Look at what they gave me.

It opens doors for me all over the world.

It's a great blessing.

So I ask you for your prayers.

The horrible thing for me was I had left my son.

I'd left my son.

And I called him at least once a week.

And we'd talk and cry on the phone.

It was terrible. I felt so guilty.

He didn't know how I loved him.

And, finally, when I got home and saw Guy Johnson, oh, my land, the reunion was so sweet.

There was a play opening in New York, and I was asked to come to New York and to audition.

-My mother had a chance to do the understudy in 'Hello, Dolly!'

with Pearl Bailey as the lead.

For my mother, it would have meant living continuously in New York without leaving me for at least a year.

And it was regular money.

The director and the producer both loved her.

But Pearl Bailey came back and said, 'Oh, no.

I ain't gonna have this big, old ugly girl be my understudy.'

There were very few times in my life that I remember my mother crying.

Because this meant she had to go back out on the road and find other work.

It was devastating.

Because I knew all the sacrifices my mother made to keep me.

35 years later, when Pearl Bailey was getting a lifetime award and they asked her, 'Who do you want to give it to you?'

she said, 'Maya Angelou.'

And guess who gave it to her and never said a damn thing!

-For the next year and a half, save for my short out-of-town singing engagements, I began to write.

At first, I limited myself to short sketches, then to song lyrics.

Then I dared short stories.

I had met Langston Hughes in California.

And John Killens.

And they both said because I was writing, they said, 'Come to New York.

Come to New York and join the Harlem Writers Guild.'

Let us criticize you and tell you how good you are or how bad you are, and we'll see.'

♪♪ -Playwrights and writers have all gone through the Harlem Writers Guild.

People ask what was going on.

We were just writing, trying to get our work written and published.

Then you come to the group, and what you want is the criticism.

And the criticism is always constructive.

You don't want to go out and tear the thing up and throw yourself into the river, you know.

-And, of course, Lewis Michaux had Michaux's Bookstore, 125th and 7th.

And that was a very, very important place.

Maya, Rosa Guy, Louise Meriwether.

-Max Roach, Paule Marshall was there in that group.

I must say that we loved bars. All of us loved bars.

Me, Rosa, Maya, we were barstool people.

Right on the corner of 96th Street and Columbus Avenue was a grill, and James Baldwin's brother worked there as a bartender.

James Baldwin was never in the Harlem Writers Guild.

He was, you know, in France, but any time he would be in town, he would be at that bar.

-I first met James Baldwin in Paris in the early '50s.

I was with 'Porgy and Bess.'

When I met him, he was small and... hot.

Dancing himself.

I mean, his movements were always the movements of a dancer.

So when I met Jimmy, well, we liked each other.

-I remember the respect that they gave one another.

The excitement that they both are expressing themselves, they're both brilliant people in a room.

After a couple of drinks, saying what they really feel.

-I'm a kind of poet and I come out of... a certain place, a certain time, a certain history.

-Right. -You know?

-Right. -And the people who reduce me... -James Baldwin was merely my mother's friend Jimmy.

I had no idea the majesty of his work at the time.

What I recall is my mother coming home after conversations with him and talking about what she was going to do as a result of having met with him.

-What Jimmy was was angry.

He was angry at injustice, at ignorance, at exploitation, at stupidity, at vulgarity.

Yes, he was angry.

-I don't know what most white people in this country feel.

I can only conclude what they feel from the state of their institutions.

I don't know whether the labor unions and their bosses really hate me.

That doesn't matter, but I know I'm not in their unions.

I don't know if the board of education hates black people, but I know the textbooks they give my children to read and the schools that we have to go to.

Now, this is the evidence.

You want me to make an act of faith on some idealism which you assure me exists in America, which I have never seen.

-Wait a minute.

[ Applause ] -It was the awakening summer of 1960, and the entire country was in labor.

Something wonderful was about to be born, and we were all going to be good parents to the welcome child.

Its name was freedom.

-We have no alternative but to keep moving with determination.

We've gone too far now to turn back.

-Dr. King came to New York to speak at Riverside Church.

And I went with friends, and we were so moved.

He was just -- He was irresistible.

And his idea of nonviolence was absolutely what I had been waiting for.

I had lived around so much violence and been myself violated.

And when Reverend King came and said, 'We can change the world with nonviolence,' it was like pouring water on a parched desert.

I needed that, and I was ready for it.

And so I and Godfrey Cambridge, a comedian, wrote a piece called 'Cabaret for Freedom' to raise money.

And we gave it to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in New York.

Bayard Rustin suggested that I be asked to come in as the northern coordinator of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

And Reverend King came, and he reminded me of my brother.

Small... beautiful speaking voice.

So when Dr. King sat in my office, he became a big brother.

I became a little girl again.

♪♪ When Harlem became politicized, really politicized in the '50s and '60s, it was so amazing.

-It was a crazy time in Harlem.

Mr. Michaux's bookshop was right in the middle of everything.

He'd have 500 people out in front of his bookshop as they'd be talking.

And I didn't know it was the precursor to Malcolm.

-When America says, 'In God we trust,' she means she trusts in a white God who showed her how to steal this country from the dark-skinned Indians.

Who showed her how to kidnap you and me and bring us over here and make us slaves.

When I use the term 'God,' I'm speaking about our God, the God of our forefathers.

The black man's God.

-At the time, I was this young actor, you know.

I'd done 'A Raisin in the Sun,' and I had started at the age of 17.

I didn't have any racial consciousness or anything.

So that deep abiding culture, Maya was responsible for teaching me why I should be upset, why I should know more about my roots.

And I eavesdropped a lot, and I sat around her to listen to her and her contemporaries.

And I saw her with Malcolm X from time to time and people like that.

But I remember her being very angry.

Very angry -- to tears -- because she was fighting the devil, the white devil, as she called it.

[ Drums playing ] It was the time of afros, dashikis, the re-establishment of the African-American black roots.

-Many African-Americans made friends with Africans who had come to the United Nations.

They got whiskey and drinks and invited African-Americans to the parties.

It was wonderful. We made friends.

-Now that Africa is getting independent and in the position to create its own image, those of us in the West look at the African image and see how positive it is.

We begin to identify with it.

We become proud of our African blood, our African heritage.

And your Western imperialists and colonialists consider this to be a grave threat.

-And then we heard that Patrice Lumumba from the Congo had been killed.

-This was Patrice Lumumba in June 1960, the premier of the new Congo Republic, waiting for the ceremonies that would mark Congolese independence.

Less than two weeks in the future, lay the army mutiny that would plunge the Congo into near chaos.

Colonel Joseph Mobutu, whose forces seized Lumumba at the beginning of December.

-And African-Americans took it as if Patrice Lumumba was, in fact, an African-American right off 125th Street.

We started asking people in Harlem to come down to United Nations and protest -- people who had never been down to Times Square, people born in Harlem full of anger at the way Africans were treated on their homeland.

We filled the General Assembly at United Nations.

Adlai Stevenson was at the desk.

-We believe that the only way to keep the Cold War out of the Congo is to keep the United Nations in the Congo.

-And at one point, Rosa Guy's sister screamed, 'Murderer!' at the top of her voice.

[ Indistinct shouting ] Whereupon all the people got up and started fighting.

-The speech was interrupted by a well-organized demonstration in the gallery.

Most of the group are American Negroes, members of African nationalist groups in New York.

-My mother taught me a love of justice.

A love of doing what's right.

She said to me, 'If you really have something to protest, you should be on the streets.'

My mother was leading this demonstration, and I was with her.

We were protesting the damage done to people in the South who had gone down there for the freedom riots.

And we had about 400 people.

Three blocks away, the mounted police pull into the street, in formation.

People in the demonstration began going to the sidewalk.

Because in those days, they ran over people.

They stomped them, trampled them, and left their bodies in the street.

And I was looking at my mother, and we kept going.

And I said, 'Ma, come on. You're gonna get us killed.

Let's go!'

She turned to me, and she said, 'One person standing on the Word of God is the majority.'

I looked at her, and I thought, 'You really have gone crazy.'

By the time the police got to us, there was probably eight or nine people out of the 400 behind us.

The sergeant in charge started to walk past us.

My mother pulled out this big hairpin out of her headband and stuck it in the sergeant's horse.

The sergeant's horse neighed, reared up.

The sergeant fell off.

The people came back from the sidewalk, and we finished that march.

Whew!

Hadn't seen courage like that... brought right up to my face.

She took me on a trip or two.

-I first saw Maya in 1961 at the St. Mark's Theater in the Village when she played in Genet's 'The Blacks.'

-'The Blacks' was a piece that really shook everyone.

It started avant-garde theater in this country.

-That was a play whose time had come.

The British took over all the theaters on Broadway.

There was 'My Fair Lady,' 'Hamlet,' 'Separate Tables,' and off-Broadway began with the Edward Albees and the Carol Burnett and 'Once Upon a Mattress.'

And we got together in 1960, and we did Jean Genet's production of 'Le Negras' -- 'The Blacks.'

-Genet set aside six actors who were black, six actors who were also black but wore white masks, representing the whites.

-And we held the audience hostage.

It was a play within a play.

And there was a little subterfuge in the ushers and the usherettes.

They were put into this ambiance even before the play started, that they were going to lock the doors.

And it finally started with a waltz, mocking them, and then all of a sudden, Roscoe Lee Browne would say, 'Ladies and gentlemen,' and the entire cast would go [Laughs] And that started the whole thing.

And people were just, 'What kind of play have we come to see here?'

-But there was Roscoe Lee Browne, James Earl Jones, Cicely Tyson, Lou Gossett.

-Godfrey Cambridge, Charles Gordon, and, of course, Maya Angelou.

She had her natural, and she was an angry black woman, you know, but so intelligent.

And she played the white queen.

The combination of Queen Elizabeth and all of the white female royalty of Europe.

One of her lines was, 'I am the lily-white queen of the West, centuries and centuries of breeding.'

And it raised the consciousness of race to such a degree that it's called the theater of the absurd.

Racism is absurd.

-Maya being an extremely political person and very ensconced in her blackness, to be playing the white queen was quite fascinating to most people.

But she had the carriage and the grandeur of the white, pompous woman.

-It's interesting that black people can play white people -- the good and the bad, because we've had centuries of having to study their faces.

Understand that a smile could mean you get flogged today.

Or a frown can mean I'm selling you off to Mississippi, you see?

-The whites, of course, reigned above.

They were on a ramp that was six feet into the air.

The blacks were on the ground.

And each one of the whites would come down the ramp and offer their objections to blacks even existing.

And as it happened, they were killed by the blacks.

Each one of them.

And as the they descended, the blacks ascended.

And they took power.

-Some whites got up and walked out.

Some blacks got up and walked out.

-Well, I think it brought to mind for the first time to many white people that they were responsible for most of our anguish because of their ignorance.

It was quite interesting to see people jump up and run out.

One man was running so fast, he fell down the stairs and broke his leg.

-One woman fainted, and a man had a heart attack.

-I remember walking out of that play and being ashamed of being white.

I was so taken by its polemic.

-At the time, Maya was searching desperately for her African roots upon whose shoulders she stood.

Maya met Vus Make at the United Nations.

An attraction ensued.

-I went to John Killens' house one evening, and there was a South African, a freedom fighter.

And I've always been a patsy for men who could think.

Oh, goodness!

And this man just opened up his brain.

[ Trills tongue ] He was fabulous.

-Well, I thought it was very odd.

[ Laughs ] But I remember when she was introduced to him.

Here was this Maya, up here at eight feet tall, and here he was, right?

And she took him by the collar and... and she -- she kissed him in the mouth and said, 'You're gonna be my... husband!'

And he was. [ Laughs ] -You know, at one point after I married him, I went back to my house in Brooklyn, and the landlady's name was Mrs. Fitzgerald.

So I said, 'Mrs. Fitzgerald, I've come with my husband.'

And she said, 'He's got a beautiful face, but he fat, ain't he?'

So I said, 'No, ma'am, he's stout.

He's not fat.'

She said, 'He fat.'

And then I walked back into the living room, and I saw him. He was fat.

[ Laughs ] But I never thought a person, how he looks that that was who he was.

-She learned a lot from Vus.

He was an astute, brilliant politician.

A brilliant guy all around.

And lovable personality.

-'Miss Angelou, when I left exile, I came to the U.S.

with the intention of finding a strong, beautiful black American woman who would be a helpmate, who understood the struggle, and who was not afraid of a fight.'

He reached across the table and took my hand.

'You are exactly what I dreamed on my long march -- tall and clear-eyed, ready to fight, and needing protection.'

Which meant I was as good as married and on my way to live in Africa.

Our plane landed at Cairo on a clear afternoon.

And just beyond the windows, the Sahara was a rippling beige sea which had no shore.

-He was working for the Pan Africanist Congress, the South African Freedom movement.

And you had South African exiles all over the place in those days.

He was the representative in Egypt.

Maya and Vus lived in Cairo, where she wrote for newspapers.

But they could not sustain the relationship.

-And it was a love/hate relationship, because, you know, she was an independent woman and he's an African -- 'No woman's gonna be bigger than me.'

-Unfortunately, at that time, freedom fighters didn't know how far freedom extended.

-But she needed to be with him for that moment to get back to Africa to learn what she learned to continue on.

-Vus was trying, and so was I, but neither of us was able to infuse vitality into our wilting marriage.

We had worn our marriage threadbare, and it was time to discard it.

I knew that other women would be in that house before the sheets lost my body's heat.

I was living in Cairo, and my son had finished high school.

He was 17.

He wanted to go to the university in Ghana.

The first day there, friends took him out for a drive and let him see the countryside.

And a truck ran into his car.

A doctor studied the X-rays, and she said, 'A hard sneeze, and he could be dead,' because his neck was broken.

-I broke my neck in Cape Coast.

In those days, there was no hospital in Cape Coast.

A couple in a Volkswagen saw the accident.

They piled me in the back and drove me four and a half hours to Accra, where I woke four days later.

They put me in a Minerva cast.

Have you ever seen a Minerva cast?

In a tropical rainforest where it is 95 to 100 degrees, I was in it for three and a half months.

They had to cut me out of it every month because of the stuff that was growing inside.

-I was told that he would never walk again.

I said, 'With the help of God, my son will walk out of the hospital.'

And they said, 'Oh, we know you have to say that, but we can tell you.'

So I said, 'No, I'm telling you.

I know you did the best you could, but I went to some place so far beyond you, I can't even describe it.

My son will walk out of the hospital.'

He was in intensive care, so I was there.

And I said, 'I see you walking.'

He said, 'Mom, that which I feared is upon me.

Mother, I have to ask you something no one should ever ask a mother.

You're my best friend.

Mother, if there's no recovery, pull the plug, let me go.'

I started shouting, 'Then I see you talking, laughing.

I see you swimming and --' He said, 'Mom, please, there's some sick people in this place.

Make so much noise.'

And about the sixth day, a nurse came in.

She said, 'Miss Angelou, come with me.'

She pulled the blankets off my son's feet.

And his toes went like that.

[ Laughs, crying ] -It virtually destroyed her.

And I don't think that he survived it and he's still alive and still functioning.

I don't think she's ever gotten over that.

I think she felt if she was there, she could have prevented it for some reason or another.

-I had some pictures I had taken at the picnic, really the last day of Guy's full physical health.

And so I made copies for her.

I thought she might like to have them.

And when I showed them to her, she became very upset.

And she just pushed them away.

Her reaction let me know how painful that still was for her so many years later.

-When I moved to Ghana, my intention was to go to Liberia, and I had been offered a job in Liberia.

But the first day that we were there, he had the accident.

-So she decided to stay in Ghana.

I was already living at the YWCA hostel, and I knew they had space.

-And, of course, once there, there were so many reasons to stay.

♪♪ -Ghana was exciting at that time.

Kwame Nkrumah was the president.

And he projected the African personality.

He had studied at Lincoln University in the United States.

And he had sort of extended an invitation.

-There were African-Americans who had moved to Ghana.

Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois, one of the great thinkers of our time, had come to Ghana to live.

Then I went to work in the university.

There were so many Ghanaians who had studied abroad.

And many people came to teach at the university.

You could get into any kind of discussion on any subject in Ghana at the time.

In-depth conversations.

-Maya was very well-known in Ghana.

First, she was extremely tall.

In those days, to have a woman six feet tall was very uncommon.

She had a little Fiat, a tiny little thing.

She called it her covered bicycle.

But she got all over Accra, and everybody knew her.

She also liked to entertain.

So we had parties at the house.

Constant parties.

So we had one hell of a good time.

-You could call people and ask them to come over for breakfast, and they would come in tens and twenties.

And you could make hot cakes and waffles, and some people had never had them before.

It was just -- It was a great place to live.

♪♪ When Malcolm X came to Ghana, the African-Americans who were there, we gathered around him like his children.

And he liked me, and we liked each other.

-I met Malcolm X at my mother's house in Ghana.

My mother went out and bought about six chickens -- and she rarely fried chicken.

And I was almost sorry to meet Malcolm X because the chicken was so good and I had to share it with him.

But the thing about Malcolm is for a person of his stature, for me to ask a question, and for him to think about it and then come back with an answer... ...captured my heart.

And his answers were so phenomenal.

-We wanted to meet so he could tell us what was going on in the States and what his plans were.

And we found out that his quest was to find an African government that would take the United Nations' genocide convention and make a charge against the United States.

-African nations and Asian nations and Latin American nations look very hypocritical when they stand up in the United Nations condemning the racist practices of South Africa and saying nothing in the U.N.

about the racist practices manifest every day against Negroes in this society.

-This is Maya with me, and our delegation went into the American embassy in Ghana to deliver our petition condemning the United States.

-Have you had any commitments from any nations in Africa to support you?

-I would rather not say at this time.

-In fact, we couldn't get any African government to bring any charge against the U.S.

because of the American money, the cash.

-He wanted to see as much as he could see of the African continent.

He said in Ghana, 'I've gone to Mecca.

I've taken the Hajj.

And I have met men with hair blond as corn silk and their faces as white as milk.

And I have been able to call them brother.

So, obviously, I was wrong.

All white people are not blue-eyed devils.'

And it takes a lot of courage to say to the world, 'You remember everything I said last week?

Well, I don't believe that anymore.'

I want to have enough sense to see the new thing and enough courage to say the new thing.

And I loved him so much.

-Maya came back because she wanted to work with Malcolm.

[ Gunshots ] [ Indistinct shouting ] So she was shattered that he was murdered before she really had a chance to talk to him.

-For me, I had two heroes.

Malcolm and... Dr. King.

They were the people that I would have looked to to lead.

-Martin Luther King... was killed on my birthday.

I had worked for him as a northern representative, and he'd asked me to come back.

And I was going to go back and then... -Dr. Martin Luther King, the apostle of nonviolence in the Civil Rights Movement, has been shot to death in Memphis, Tennessee.

Police rushed the 39-year-old Negro leader to a hospital, where he died of a bullet wound in the neck.

-It just -- just knocked me out.

And I fell into mutism again.

I just... just couldn't be myself.

And, finally, after about five days, James Baldwin came to my house.

Bamma-lamma-lamma on the door.

'Open this hm-hm-hm door.

I'll call the police.'

So I opened the door, and he came in.

He saw I was really unkempt and my house was a mess, and I'd always loved a pretty house.

He said, 'Go take a shower, put some clothes on.

I'm taking you somewhere.'

We went to Jules Feiffer's house, the cartoonist.

And Jules Feiffer and Judy Feiffer, his then-wife, told stories, and Baldwin told stories.

And Baldwin asked me, 'Tell a little bit about your grandma.

Tell a little bit about Stamps, Arkansas.'

So I started by saying, 'In Arkansas, racism was so prevalent that black people couldn't even eat vanilla ice cream.'

And so it made everybody laugh.

And they asked me to tell a story, tell another.

-She was absolutely captivating.

And she just told these stories in a very matter-of-fact -- There was nothing showoff-y about it.

-Judy Feiffer, the next morning, called Random House and talked to Bob Loomis.

This was 1968.

-She called me one day, and she said, at their house the night before, they had a party, and this woman, Maya Angelou, was there.

Now, in that group, there's some wonderful talkers.

Jules, I think Philip Roth was at that party.

But Judy said this woman told the best stories -- people she'd known.

There were stories of adventure that she had.

They were stories about her career in nightclubs in California, on and on.

Then she said, 'She's got a book in her of some kind.'

Well, I hate to tell you how many times I've heard that.

But I called Maya.

She was in California, I believe, then.

I brought up the subject. She was not warm to it.

-He said, 'Would you write an autobiography?'

I said, 'No, thank you. No, I don't.

I write poetry and I have plays.'

I'd written a 10-episode series for PBS.

So I went out to San Francisco to produce it.

♪♪ Hello. My name is Maya Angelou.

And Bob Loomis called me about three or four times.

Oh, he harassed me for about six months.

-Now, in those days, the younger people --- And somewhat unknown people did not write books.

I called several more times. Got nowhere.

-♪ If you get to heaven before I do ♪ And, finally, he said, 'Miss Angelou, I won't call you again.'

I said, 'That's good.' He said, 'Because, you know, writing autobiography as literature is almost impossible.'

I said, 'Well... Well, in that case, I'll try.'

-And believe it or not, she started to write.

It needed some work, but it was only because in a true sense, she was an amateur.

Amateur, you know, means someone who loves something.

It doesn't mean you're not good.

And we also decided that although she'd done a lot in her career, that she should try maybe just to write about her childhood.

So she began.

-When I was three and Bailey four, we had arrived in the musty little town wearing tags which instructed that we were Marguerite and Bailey Johnson Jr.

-She was able to go way back and remember in a very meaningful way things that I think she'd never told anybody.

When we first published 'Caged Bird,' it was a new genre.

She was a new writer.

Sales, at first, were not what I thought they should be.

It turned out to be a landmark book, still a touchstone for a lot of people.

-I read her work when I was in fifth grade.

It was the opening for me to wanting to be a writer.

-'Caged Bird' was really almost another Bible for me.

-I think it was around junior high school.

-I don't even know what age I was, but it touched a very young girlish part of me.

I felt it was me.

I felt it was a girl sitting next to me.

-It reflected my own mother's life, which was a life of neglect and mistreatment and abuse.

And I gave a copy to my mother.

I met Bill Clinton, and one of the first things we talked about was that book.

-When I read it, I couldn't believe that these things happened to her and that she was free enough to talk about them.

-I'd never heard of another black woman, young girl, who had been raped.

So I read those words and thought, 'Somebody knows who I am.'

-Here's a black woman who takes off the cuffs.

Here's a black woman who writes her story.

It was a very important literary feat.

Because it said it's okay for a black woman to say what happened to her in public in a literary form.

-What she did -- and it's not easy -- was find a way of replicating who and what she was on paper.

And a lot of writers can't do that.

-I thought from the time she was very young, she was always paying attention.

She just didn't miss much.

And that's a great gift, because if you're really paying attention and then you can put it into words, you can empower other people as they absorb your experience.

-She said, 'You know, sometimes when I'm acting, I see myself acting.

But when I write, I'm lost completely in what I'm doing.

There's nothing else but that.'

In fact, she even hibernates when she writes.

She often rents a room.

-I know she likes to, you know, have that room in the hotel where, you know, she takes her cards -- that yellow legal pad.

-All of her life, Maya wrote in longhand.

-She'd sit down with a Bible and a thesaurus, and she makes draft after draft after draft after draft.

-Just a desk, a chair, a pen, and maybe some Johnnie Walker.

-Jack Daniels. -Scotch.

-Part of her process, I've come to find, is talking it through.

She'll start to tell a story, you know, and I'm like, 'Uh-huh, this is gonna be in the book.

I can feel it.'

-She would read manuscript to me.

She would sing to me in restaurants.

And she has a loud voice.

I thought it was wonderful, but some head waiters were biting their nails.

She's a singer, she's a writer, she's a poet.

And yet books are not precious.

They do not sound contrived or too ornate.

They're very simple.

That's what's so hard to do and do it well.

-Autobiography is awfully seductive.

Once I really got into it, I realized that I was following a tradition established by Frederick Douglass... which is the slave narrative.

Speaking in the first person singular, talking about the third person plural.

Always saying 'I,' meaning 'we.'

-Her language base was classical.

See, Maya didn't read modern poetry until later, and a lot of people who come from country do that.

'Cause they're not exposed to modern poetry.

Reading the older writers means that their language is going to be archaic.

And there's nothing wrong with writing 'Caged Bird' in a language that's partially Victorian and biblical.

-Everybody in the world uses words.

Uses, 'How are you? Fine, thank you,' verbs, adverbs, adjectives, nouns, pronouns.

The writer has to take these most known things and put them together in such a way that a reader says, 'I never thought of it that way before.'

That's hard. That's a challenge.

And I know many writers, and I'm one, who says, 'Lord, are you sure you wanted me to do this?'

-When 'Caged Bird' came out in '69, she had no idea how popular and beloved she would become around the world.

-At that point in her life, Maya was, you know, climbing up the ladder of success.

I mean, she was being acknowledged as a writer.

She had met Paul.

And Paul was very supportive of her.

-Years ago, I fell in love with a man... who, I'm happy to say, was in love with me.

And we lived together in great harmony out in California.

But then he wanted to get married, and I don't care much for the institution.

But he insisted. And so I called Jimmy.

He said, 'Does your reluctance to marry him have anything to do with his being white?'

So I said... 'Maybe.'

He said, 'But his being white didn't keep you from falling in love with him.'

I said, 'No.' He said, 'But it keeps you from making a public statement of your love, is that it?'

I said, 'I suppose so.'

People -- I mean, my people, you know, what will they say?

He said, 'Maya Angelou, you talk about courage all the time.

You tell everybody else to dare to love, but you don't have the courage.

Are you a hypocrite?'

And he talked to me harder than he'd ever talked to me before.

'So what the hell you gonna do, girl?'

I said, 'I'm gonna marry the man,' what to do.

I finally married my own husband.

-Mm-hmm. -My mother has a theory that most people marry other people's husbands.

-How many husbands? -I've had enough.

[ Both laugh ] But I finally have my own.

I'm a woman. -You's a woman now.

I'm a woman. And I was looking for a man.

-Mm-hmm. What is your husband's name?

-Paul Du Feu.

-Du Feu.

-Paul Du Feu was a very interesting guy.

He had come out of England out of the construction industry, and he was a writer.

He had a tendency to drink... to his fill.

-He had written a book called 'Let's Hear It for the Long-Legged Women.'

A lot of people thought because he was with Maya that the book was about Maya.

But it just so happened that his significant other before Maya had been another six-foot woman -- Germaine Greer -- who was England's leading feminist.

-My mother was just beginning to become prominent, and they bought a number of houses where they just tore them apart and reconstructed them.

-I mean, the time I went up to see them, he was under the house, repairing things, you know.

And Maya was being miss homemaker.

You know, she was in the kitchen, which is her sanctum, really.

She loves the kitchen.

-Paul would roast goats and pigs, and they had parties.

-I thought that her relationship with Paul was the most compatible that I witnessed over the years.

He seemed very caring.

She seemed at peace with herself when they were together.

-I could see Maya looking at Paul with a look that was just -- You can't describe it any other way but, wow, this woman is really taken with this guy, you know?

They were solid.

I mean, they had their differences, but they communicated, you know, in a good way.

-So when I heard that it was over... I was shocked.

-Maya came to my house one night, knocked on the door, and she says, 'Don, my marriage is over, and I had to get away from Sonoma.'

That's all she said.

-Maya was on the road, and, increasingly, Paul didn't go with her.

Paul drank increasingly.

And Maya, you know, she could turn up one, too.

Paul said to me personally that he didn't feel there was room for anybody else besides the written word in Maya's life.

-My mother has not had the good fortune to know love... ...that lasts a long time.

-We saw her on television, and Nick thought she was the sexiest thing he'd ever seen -- aside from the poetry, aside from the, you know, the greatness in her works.

He just thought she was a sexy lady, and he said, 'God, I would love to know this lady.'

Meeting Maya for the first time, we had been living in black and white, and she brought color.

There was a kinship, a connection that I had never felt with anybody else.

If you've got stuff, she's got more stuff.

[ Indistinct singing ] I was playing the piano, and she came on down.

All of a sudden, she'd just come in and start talking on the music.

And then, suddenly, you know, the light bulb came on.

'Wow, this could be something.'

-I was caught up in a lonely crowd.

The moon had slipped behind a cloud.

Like a single wave on a lonely beach, I thought I was lost beyond your reach.

-♪ Give me something I could build on ♪ -It was just fun hearing her do the line one way and do the line another way, you know?

When you're producing Maya Angelou, you could say, 'Excuse me, could you just put a little more something in it,' but, you know, you don't want to go too far.

You don't want to make her mad now.

-Oh, but you kept on searching.

Both land and sea.

I say hallelujah that you found me.

-♪ No, no ♪ No, no -Most people just don't know how to get loose.

But Maya knows how to get loose, and music excites her.

She's not afraid of her sensuality and her passion.

-♪ Been found -If she meets a very interesting-looking man, she will speak on it.

She will say, 'You're a handsome young man.'

She can't help herself. She's just sexy like that.

-One thing they cannot prohibit, the strong men coming on, the strong men getting stronger.

Strong men stronger, stronger, stronger.

-♪ Ever since the day we met What a pity.

-I was doing a score on 'Love of Ivy.'

-♪ You know our love is nothing but the blues, woman ♪ -We had B.B. King for two songs, and I needed a lyricist.

-♪ Baby, how blue can you get?

-And so I saw her in New York and asked her would she be interested in doing a lyric for B.B. King for this movie with Sydney Poitier and Abbey Lincoln.

And she said, 'Sure.'

And she wrote the lyrics for two songs.

One was a big hit.

-I'm going to ask you one last question, and then we'll be finished.

The question is, what is the blues?

Now, wait, Mr. King.

One of the things I'm interested in here is the relationship of the blues to African music.

-I didn't discover till Maya confessed it to me that her and B.B., that the relationship went past lyric writing.

-We've heard that ladies will cry when something happened to them.

A man won't cry on the outside, but he usually cries inwardly.

It might be one of those funny type of things that I feel that you may laugh at me about it, so I'll get out to myself, and I sing about it.

And, eventually, it becomes a song.

-You see, that's poetry.

That shows that you're not only a poet in your music.

-And I said, 'If I knew that, I would have told you to stay away, because blues singers give the blues.

They don't get the blues.

They give the blues.'

-♪ How blue can you get, woman? ♪ -And he gave us the blues, too, 'cause he gave her a rough time.

-♪ The answer's right here in my heart ♪ -When I was young, my father would -- He would shout, 'Come here, bring the kids, bring the kids!'

And we'd go running in, and he'd go, 'Look at this colored girl on TV!'

And he'd just be sitting there, looking at it.

At that point, the main images that we were getting on the screen were people that I didn't recognize.

But 'Roots' was as if my family was on the television.

-That's good.

-And I don't mean my ancestral family, but my real family.

-Now that you are a man, what will you do?

-The 'Roots' miniseries comes out in '77.

Black directors, black actors.

And here's Maya, the grandmother of Kunta Kinte.

-You can grow as tall as a tree, and I will still be your grandmother!

-The impact that 'Roots' had, it's a story that you could read about it a little bit in a chapter in a history book.

But the world didn't really realize the horrific stories that happened during those hundreds of years.

-It was edifying for a lot of us.

There were panels everywhere.

People made money talking about 'Roots,' writing about 'Roots,' singing about 'Roots.'

The '70s and the '80s was a great time for Maya.

Maya was cooking.

♪♪ I mean, 'Caged Bird' was made into a movie.

Maya Became the first black woman member of the Directors Guild of America.

Whoo, tell me about it!

She had this series of autobiographies come out, just smoking, you know.

And poetry, 'Pray My Wings,' 'Heart of a Woman,' 'Singin' & Swingin' & Gettin' Merry like Christmas.'

-A singer, dancer, and actress, screenwriter, editor, lecturer, author -- Maya Angelou.

[ Applause ] -'Joy' was a word that Maya wrote in an autograph tens of thousands of times.

I'd be with her, and there'd be lines in the gymnasium, wrapping around inside the gymnasium.

-I always knew that what Maya Angelou held as a poet and a writer was something that the world needed to feel and experience.

♪♪ -I was asked, would I consider writing a poem for President Clinton's inauguration.

And I said, 'Yes!'

And then I started to pray and ask everybody and little children, 'What do you think?'

-I wanted a poem.

Nobody had done a poem since Robert Frost.

Once I made the decision, I didn't really think about anybody else.

Maya Angelou had spent a lot of her childhood in Stamps, Arkansas, which is about 25 miles from Hope, where I was born.

My grandfather had a little grocery store in a predominantly African-American neighborhood.

When I read 'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,' I knew exactly who she was talking about and what she was talking about in that book.

-That's a contradiction in terms, public poem.

-Yes. -Poem is private and interior and all that.

And people, as soon as the statement was made to the press, people would see me in the supermarket, on planes and say, 'How's the poem going?'

Oh, gosh! -'Finish that poem yet?'

-Yeah, exactly.

-I knew she got me, she understood the time we were living in, she understood the world we were living in, and she knew what could be our undoing, as well as our unchaining.

-Now, we he no idea what she was gonna say.

And Bill didn't come with any set of directions, like, 'Well, I'd like you to talk about this and I'd like you to talk about that.'

He just said, 'I want you to write a poem and deliver it at my inauguration.'

-But I knew she'd make an impression.

She was big.

And she had the voice of God.

-A rock, a river, a tree, hosts to species long since departed, marked the mastodon... -And the minute she started talking, you could just feel the change rolling across the crowd, and everybody started listening.

-But today, the rock cries out to us.

Come, you may stand upon my back... The rock comes from a 19th-century gospel song.

♪ Oh, I went to the rock to hide my face ♪ ♪ Rock cried out... No hiding place down here.

Across the wall of the world, a river sings a beautiful song.

♪ I'm gonna lay down my burden ♪ Down by the riverside ♪ To study war no more Your armed struggles for profit have left collars of waste upon my shore.

Yet today, I call you to my riverside, if you will study war no more.

-And once you had that... -Then I could talk about all of us.

There is a true yearning to respond to the singing river and the wise rock, so say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew, the African, the Native American, the Sioux, the Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek, the Irish, the rabbi, the priest, the sheik, the gay, the straight, the preacher, the privileged, the homeless, the teacher.

They all hear the speaking of the tree.

Each of you, descendant of some passed-on traveler, has been paid for -- bought, sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare, praying for a dream.

Give birth again to the dream.

-It was wonderful.

-Sculpted into the image of your most public self.

-I thought it was monumental... because it was inclusive, it was understandable.

-It was the whole package.

I mean, it was a phenomenal woman at a moment in history where she belonged with a president with whom she could relate.

It just pulled it all together.

-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, very simply, with hope, 'Good morning.'

[ Cheers and applause ] -She just did it.

I mean, it was just breathtaking.

That poem is kind of like an eternal gift to America.

And it will read well 100 years from now.

-Right after she delivered the inaugural address poem, so many requests started coming in.

If she lived another lifetime, she wouldn't be able to fulfill the requests to speak at universities and colleges.

That is some -- whoo!

-♪ My name's Maya, that's a fine name ♪ ♪ It's not your name, but it's fine just the same ♪ -Dr. Maya Angelou. -Maya Angelou.

-Ladies and gentlemen, Maya Angelou.

-Dr. Maya Angelou.

-Well, Maya Angelou is here.

-Maya Angelou for Butterfinger.

-Did the slothful mastodon upon his extinction declare the wind, the rain, the fire, the Butterfinger.

-Good evening.

-I am the hope of the slave, and I don't work for free.

-Kim, you had a question.

-Yeah, I wanted to ask Maya her views on interracial relationship.

-Oh, thank you. And first, I'm Miss Angelou.

-Miss Angelou. -Yes, ma'am.

I'm not Maya. I'm 62 years old.

I have lived so long and tried so hard that a young woman like you -- or any other -- has no license to come up to me and call me by my first name.

That's first. That's first.

Also, because at the same time, I am your mother, I'm your auntie, I'm your teacher, I'm your professor.

You see?

I wrote the book 'Gather Together in My Name,' to tell young people that I would admit where I've been.

I had written about a very rough time at 18.

I went on to a national show, and the woman who interviewed me, who I knew slightly... said, 'Maya Angelou, how does it feel to know you're the first black woman to have a national best seller in nonfiction, second book nominated for the Pulitzer, and to know that at 18, you were a prostitute?'

The fellow I liked told me he was desperate.

And I was so green.

I tell you why I wrote that, though.

Because so many adults told and tell young people, 'I've never done anything wrong.

My closet is free of specters and ghosts and skeletons.'

So I thought they could all gather together in my name.

I would tell the children, 'Listen, I've done this.

This has happened.

I have forgiven myself. I've gotten up.'

I was afraid that when I told it, that there would be sneering at me.

Just the opposite.

Just the opposite happened.

My Aunt Pauline passed this quilt down to me.

It was made by my great-great-grandmother.

-The first time I ever sat down with her was during the making of 'How to Make an American Quilt.'

And I was giving her her proper reverential due, and calling her Dr. Angelou or -- and she would say, 'Alfre, you -- you know, stop it.

You call me Maya.'

And I looked at her, I said, 'I'm not calling you Maya.'

And I said, 'Okay, let's compromise.

We'll go with Miss Maya.'

-And let's go right away, while we've got the sun and no airplanes.

-In the late '90s, Dr. Angelou was going to make her directing debut.

-Cut!

-I knew she was a creative genius, so I didn't have any qualms of being directed by a first-time director.

But poets tend to be more introspective.

Poets create alone.

And a film set is the absolute opposite.

It's loud, it's boisterous, until, 'Action.'

-♪ Little darling ♪ Gotta go now -Maya Angelou's film 'Down in the Delta' mirrored the migration of the sharecroppers coming up to the north for opportunity, for safety, and they start to live away from the land on concrete.

And that starts to change a person.

Especially people who have worked the land.

And it starts to make the family dysfunctional after a couple generations.

[ Doorbell buzzing ] -Loretta!

Open -- -What?! -And the mother realizes, 'You know what?

The remedy to that...' -Come on home.

-'...is getting back to the land, is going down where people say, 'Good morning,' 'How are you, sir,' 'I am fine.'

Where there is community.'

♪♪ Dr. Angelou believed in the beauty and the healing power of the South... and of family and connection.

-150 years of family history right here.

-Just as important as the story that we were telling was how we treated ourselves and each other in the process of telling that story.

And so she was called Dr. Angelou on the set, and she called people Miss Divine.

Even like a grip, just like a beer-belly grip, we honored each other and honored this story.

The whole crew would sit, and she would talk about the historical significance of a particular scene and what would be happening in that space 100 years ago.

It was like we were on an archeological dig on sacred ground.

-Years ago, I was living in Egypt.

And my next-door neighbor, her husband was the first secretary of the Nigerian embassy.

So I said, 'I know a song. I believe it's African, but I don't know what it means.'

[ Singing in foreign language ] I looked over, and she was crying.

She said, 'It's ancient Yoruba, and it says, 'Father, father, they have taken me from your compound and they treat me worse than you treat a dog.

They've taken me across water wetter than tears.

Is your magic strong enough to cross all this water?'' When I was living in Ghana, the people there looked at me and thinking I looked so much like them that maybe I was the daughter of one of the people who had been taken.

So we all wept.

It was very difficult to be in the place where the slaves were housed until the ship would come.

Those who could run away ran away.

Women took their babies by their feet and slung them against trees so that they wouldn't be sold into slavery.

I could hear the wails of people in caverns, in chains, knowing that they would never see their beloveds again.

That they would be put into ships and sailed across seas, creating for me and mine the worst times in our lives.

We've undergone experiences too bizarre, and yet here we are, still here -- today, upwards of 50 million.

And I know there are people who'd swear there are more than 50 million black people in the Baptist Church.

And they're not even counting backsliders and the three black atheists in the world.

Still here. Still here.

Amazing.

I think at some point, we have to stop and wonder, how did we come to a place where young men call their other gender 'ho.'

What happened?

And to use the N-word as if that's okay to use.

It's not, and you know it's not.

-When I was working on my new album, 'The Dreamer, the Believer,' and Dr. Maya Angelou was a friend of mine.

She wrote a piece for it, and we placed it in the song.

-Once you find your shoulders dropping and your speech gets slow and hazy, you'd better change your way of being.

-Well, I was using, like, the N-word in it.

So a writer brought that up to her, and she, you know, expressed that she wasn't happy with that.

-Maya Angelou came out and said she was disappointed in you.

-And the use of the N-word.

-She was -- I wouldn't use the word disappointed.

She was like, basically, she was just surprised.

So I got on the phone with her.

I gave her my perspective on, man, you know, this is part of our culture, and I know the word came from a bad thing, but we're turning it into something positive, and she wasn't trying to hear all that.

-No, no, no, no, no. It's vulgar.

It's created to demean a human being.

I know black people say, 'I can use it 'cause I'm black.'

No, no, if a thing is poison and it's got a skull and bones on it, you can take that content and pour it into Bavarian crystal, it's still poison.

-The firing of Don Imus for his remarks about the Rutgers women's basketball team touched off a national discussion about the power of words.

Well, fewer Americans we know have a greater mastery of words than Maya Angelou.

What is your reaction when you heard the words Don Imus used this week?

-I was really sorry. I was sorry for him.

I just felt really brought down.

-Those are some nappy-headed hos there, I'm gonna tell you that now.

-Russell Simmons, the head of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, has said... Do you agree with what? -No, I certainly do not.

It is all the same.

All vulgarity is vulgarity.

I would ask the hip-hoppers, if you wanted to see how powerful you are, use Miss Laura Bush and call her one of those B-words.

And see how long you will live.

There wouldn't be enough rope to hang your butts.

But black women, because we are last on the totem pole, everybody has a chance to take a chance on us.

Well, not now.

-I have been in the house where somebody on the other side of the room was in the midst of telling a joke, and I think this happened to be a joke about a gay person, and she hears the tone of that joke, and she stops the party and asks them to leave her home.

'Not in my house will those kinds of words be spoken.'

-So when I see the children using the words, I stop them and say, 'Excuse me just a minute, please.'

John Singleton did a movie called 'Poetic Justice.'

And he asked if he could use some of my poetry for Janet Jackson to speak.

-Storm clouds are gathering.

The wind is gonna blow.

The race of man is suffering.

-And I said, 'Yes, of course.'

Then he asked would I come out to California and do a cameo.

-The parents are not taking care of the children.

They are not... -And there was one young man on the set who was cursing.

He was using -- whoo!

I mean, you could see the blue come out of his mouth, ooh.

I mean, combinations of words I had -- Wow.

So the next day, when I came out, he was still cursing.

And then he got into a big row with another young man.

They were going to fisticuffs.

-This was the period in which the L.A. riots had just broken out.

And so there was a lot of tension on the set.

At a certain point, he just went -- you know, he just went for the dude like, you know, he's gonna whup his ass, you know?

And going after him.

He was just a straight tornado.

And Dr. Angelou just said, 'Honey, come here.

Honey, come here, come here. Come to me.'

-And I said, 'Excuse me.

May I speak?'

The young man who was cursing said, 'I wouldn't give a --' I said, 'I understand that.

I understand that. But may I speak?'

'If these mo--' I said, 'Mm-hmm. I've heard that before, too.

But may I speak to you?'

'You see, if they think, they've really got it wrong.'

So I said, 'I see that.

But when was the last time anyone told you how important you are?

You're the best we have.

We need you desperately.

Do you know that our people stood on auction blocks for you?

Did you know we got up before sunrise and slept after sunset so that you could stay alive, you could be here this day?'

And I put my arm around his waist, and I just walked him down a little sort of decline.

And I talked to him about our people.

-And she put her arms around him, and she just walked him away.

And they had their own private moment, you know.

I don't know everything that was said, but it was phenomenal.

-Suddenly, he started to cry.

And I turned his back to the crowd and just talked to him.

I didn't have a Kleenex or handkerchief.

I just took my hand and wiped his face.

And when he had control of himself again, I continued to my trailer.

Within two minutes, Miss Janet Jackson came to my trailer.

She said, 'Dr. Angelou, I don't believe you actually spoke to Tupac Shakur.'

So I said, 'Darling, I don't know Six-pack Shakur.'

I did not think... I had no idea who he was.

She said, 'But he's a very famous rap star.'

So I said, 'Oh, well, I'm glad to know that, and he's fine, and all is well.'

-For him, it was like -- it was golden.

You know, it was a golden moment.

He told his mother, Afeni Shakur, about it.

Afeni wrote Maya a letter and, 'Thank you for looking out for Pac.'

-She's been the person that has literally been at my back and at my front, leading me through this sort of matrix of fame, notoriety, growing into yourself as a woman.

The best thing she ever said to me was, 'You are enough.'

So her understanding of that for herself and being able to impart that through her work and her words to our culture is that each of us, just the way we're born, just with the gifts that we have to offer, you alone are enough.

-I must tell you first that I have you in my heart.

I see myself in you as a young person in Stamps.

I hope you see yourselves in me.

Get your work done, study, put it in the brain.

This machine will do anything for you -- anything.

It will take you to China if you want to go.

It will take you to New York, if you want to go.

It will make you principal of this school if you want it to.

You understand?

Somebody is going to make laws for this entire land.

Is it going to be you? Is it going to be you?

The chance is there.

It's so exciting.

-Everybody needs somebody in their life who can -- you can go all the way there with.

And with her, you can go all the way.

There's nothing so dark, so deep, so dirty, so anything that she can't hear it, understand it, and help cleanse you from it.

That is something that we all need in our life, 'cause you think you're grown and you're just not.

You're still a child.

-And that's kind of what I like about Dr. Angelou.

'Cause I know I'm not perfect and whatever, but it's something that she can look at me, and she kind of -- she can kind of put the picture together.

She knows I'm just a dude trying to figure it out.

-The Comedy Central star stunned his fans when he suddenly just walked away from the hit TV show and a $50 million contract.

-And lots of money is dangled before people's eyes.

It's important, if not, in fact, imperative... that each knows that there's a line beyond which you will not go.

And some would say, 'Damn, Jack!

You're giving this up?'

I know it. -Yeah.

-I know it too well.

But the thing is, you have someplace that nobody can take you beyond.

Somewhere in the bend of your elbow.

You see?

Nobody.

-Something else, man.

-This is called 'I'm Aging,' which I wrote as a song.

When you see me walking, stumbling, don't study and get it wrong.

Tired don't mean lazy.

Every goodbye ain't gone.

I'm the same person I was back then.

A little less heart, a little less chin, some less lungs and some less wind.

But ain't I lucky I can still breathe in?

Hey! -I love it.

-Yeah.

I'm a patient of COPD, which means chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

And my lungs are so mangled that I don't get enough oxygen.

And so I have to have supplementary oxygen.

-As she got older, it was more difficult.

And that's why she really made an effort, and she was visibly challenged but dismissive of it.

Everyone else was trying to make sure things were right for her.

She just wanted to live her life.

-♪ Simply the best -She knew that if she didn't continue to go, she would stop.

That's what fed her.

She had this incredible love for people.

And she did everything that she could to keep herself alive and to keep people being fed by that energy.

-A blessing! Praise God, praise God!

-Thank you.

-Don't take this one.

-I think one of the things that brings people together at any time during their lives... -No. -Yes.

That's why I'm so honored.

-I'm so pleased.

All right, now!

-It's a recognition of a similarity.

And that is the bond that brings you together.

-Of course.

-We talked all the time.

And so she knew I was doing the play, and she talked to several people who had seen it.

And I knew she wasn't well.

And I didn't want her to feel any pressure about coming to see it in New York City.

One evening, the show's over.

One of the stage managers says, 'There's a guest of yours here.'

I go upstairs... and she's at the head of the steps in her wheelchair.

-♪ When God shut Noah ♪ In the grand old ark -I hope she's happy.

-♪ He put a rainbow ♪ In the cloud When the thunder roared ♪ And the sky got dark ♪ God put a rainbow in the cloud ♪ ♪ In the cloud ♪ In the cloud -All of us have different fingerprints, but some of our fingerprints are so indelible on the lives of other people when they touch us.

Miss Maya is gone, and nobody is gonna talk like she talked or walk like she walked.

I mean, she left us plenty of things.

We can't be greedy, but, man, the curtain going down on that act... Thank God I got to live in that time.

-♪ Steal away ♪ Steal away home ♪ I ain't got long ♪ To stay here [ Bell tolling ] -You may write me down in history -You may write me down in history -You may write me down in history -You may write me down in history -You may write me down in history -You may write me down in history -You may write me down in history -You may write me down in history -You may write me down in history -You may write me down in history -You may write me down in history -You may write me down in history -You may write me down in history -You may write me down in history -You may write me down in history -You may write me down in history I rise!

I rise!