Maya Angelou touched the hearts of millions through her poetry, her wit, and her wisdom. My heart goes out to her son, Guy Johnson, and to all of her family and friends.
Not only was the poet laureate a powerful writer, artist, and thinker, she was also a woman of matchless compassion and an eloquent humanitarian activist and champion of the poor and oppressed of all nations.
During the 20th century civil rights movement, she served as a fundraiser for the cause and was a SCLC organizer. She was a close friend of my Aunt Coretta Scott King. They became “sisters” for justice. Maya and Aunt Coretta were contemporaries, and had many things in common.
For example, they were both mentors of the dearly beloved media personality Oprah Winfrey.
I admired her mostly from a distance. I did have the opportunity to meet her and greet her through the years when she graced our family with her presence. She shared her poetic gifts at memorable events that helped to support the work of the movement, and later the King Center. I was blessed to be present during some of these times, and even shake her hand and receive the blessing of her smile bestowed upon me.
Sometimes we think we know a person. Then some information about them surfaces that helps us to love that person all the more. This is the case of my discovery of a lifesaving decision she made years ago.
I never knew until now about her personal decision to birth her son Guy who was conceived when she was a teenager. She described her decision in her first autobiography. She could have sought an illegal abortion but, instead, decided to keep her baby.
“I’m telling you that the best decision I ever made was keeping that baby! Yes, absolutely. Guy was a delight from the start — so good, so bright, and I can’t imagine my life without him,” she said.
While her circumstances are not so uncommon, what is unique about her decision is that her courage, compassion, and conviction that we know and love in all of her poetry enabled her to publicly share her experience which she shared in an essay published in Family Circle years ago. In that essay, she called her actions the best decision of her life.
“When I was 16, a boy in high school evinced interest in me, so I had sex with him — just once. Then, when I found out I was pregnant, I went to the boy and asked him for help, but he said it wasn’t his baby and he didn’t want any part of it.
"I was scared to pieces. Back then, if you had money, there were some girls who got abortions, but I couldn’t deal with that idea. Oh, no. No. I knew there was somebody inside me. So I decided to keep the baby.
"My older brother, Bailey, my confidant, told me not to tell my mother or she’d take me out of school. So I hid it the whole time with big blouses! Finally, three weeks before I was due, I left a note on my stepfather’s pillow telling him I was pregnant. He told my mother, and when she came home, she calmly asked me to run her bath.
"I’ll never forget what she said: 'Now tell me this — do you love the boy?' I said no. 'Does he love you?' I said no. 'Then there’s no point in ruining three lives. We are going to have our baby!
"What a knockout she was as a mother of teens. Very loving. Very accepting. Not one minute of recrimination. And I never felt any shame.
"At 17 I got a job as a cook and later as a nightclub waitress. I found a room with cooking privileges, because I was a woman with a baby and needed my own place. My mother, who had a 14-room house, looked at me as if I was crazy! She said, 'Remember this: You can always come home.' She kept that door open. And every time life kicked me in the belly, I would go home for a few weeks.
"I struggled, sure. We lived hand-to-mouth, but it was really heart-to-hand. Guy had love and laughter and a lot of good reading and poetry as a child. Having my son brought out the best in me and enlarged my life. Whatever he missed, he himself is a great father today. He was once asked what it was like growing up in Maya Angelou’s shadow, and he said, 'I always thought I was in her light.'
"Years later, when I was married, I wanted to have more children, but I couldn’t conceive. Isn’t it wonderful that I had a child at 16? Praise God!”
Yes. Praise God! We thank God for her courage, her love, her gifts, and her joy of being a mother, a grandmother and a great-grandmother. Beyond what she leaves to her natural family, Maya Angelou leaves a great and memorable blessing in the hearts of the millions whom she touched with her artistry; and, she leaves behind a luminous vision of hope that will inspire millions more for generations to come.
For Generations to Come by Dr. Alveda C. King
Our family tree means more to me, Than silver or gold, or a Rolls Royce.
I can rejoice and be glad, that Mother and Dad loved each other— and God;
Who blessed their union. From one to another, we are linked to each other.
Through the blessings and mercy or our awesome Creator; Our Creator, the Artist,
Who reminds us of eternity; In the smiles of our children, who have the
Spirit of our ancestors — twinkling out from their eyes.
Reminding us of the generations to come.
An original poem by Dr. Alveda C. King submitted as a tribute in memory of Dr. Maya Angelou.
Dr. Alveda C. King grew up in the civil rights movement led by her uncle, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She is a pastoral associate and director of African-American outreach for Priests for Life and Gospel of Life Ministries. Her family home in Birmingham, Ala., was bombed, as was her father’s church office in Louisville, Ky. Alveda herself was jailed during the open housing movement. Read more reports from Dr. Alveda C. King — Click Here Now.
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