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Maya Angelou

In Saint Louis, Missouri on April 4, 1928, American author and poet, Maya Angelou was born. She was born Marguerite Joshnson. She did many things including singing, dancing, journalism, acting, directing, and being an activist. This talented woman had a rough childhood. In fact, she went about four years without speaking to anyone other than her brother.

Her literature, poems, and plays explore the theme of oppression. Oppression of Black people, oppression of women, oppression of the poor. Her most famous book is I know why the Caged Bird Sings from 1969. It is about the story of a girl named Maya in the 1930s in Arkansas during segregation. The character of Maya goes through difficult situations similar to that of the author. This is not autobiographical, but Maya did write several autobiographies.

In 1993, at President Bill Clinton’s inaugral ceremony, she recited one of her poems. In 1995, she set a record for having a book on The New York Times’ bestseller list for two years. In 1972, she was the first African American woman to have her screenplay produced, the film Georgia, Georgia. Her dear friend, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assignated on her birthday, April 4, 1968 and for many years, she did not celebrate her birthday.

In 1990, she published I Shall Not Be Moved. It is from this book, we have chosen to feature the poem “Human Family” recited by Maya Angelou herself. The lyrics of this poem will be below the video. This video is a good introduction to Angelou’s work. It is encouraging and unifying. You could use this as a springboard into having students read more of her poetry. I would have a class discussion, modeling how to find the meaning of a poem, then have students, either in groups or individually, choose another one of her poems to read and sumerise.

Lyrics

Human Family

I note the obvious differences
in the human family.
Some of us are serious,
some thrive on comedy.

Some declare their lives are lived
as true profundity,
and others claim they really live
the real reality.

The variety of our skin tones
can confuse, bemuse, delight,
brown and pink and beige and purple,
tan and blue and white.

I’ve sailed upon the seven seas
and stopped in every land,
I’ve seen the wonders of the world
not yet one common man.

I know ten thousand women
called Jane and Mary Jane,
but I’ve not seen any two
who really were the same.

Mirror twins are different
although their features jibe,
and lovers think quite different thoughts
while lying side by side.

We love and lose in China,
we weep on England’s moors,
and laugh and moan in Guinea,
and thrive on Spanish shores.

We seek success in Finland,
are born and die in Maine.
In minor ways we differ,
in major we’re the same.

I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

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What do you think?

Benjamin Banneker

Thurgood Marshall