A Portrait of Maya Angelou

  • submit to reddit

In the 1982/1983 Creativity series, Bill Moyers examined various forms of creative expression by interviewing noted artists and performers about their influences and inspiration, and by looking at unusual outlets for the creative impulse. The first episode featured an interview with writer Maya Angelou. Here is a video clip from that show and a full transcript of their conversation.



BILL MOYERS: Whatever the endeavor, creativity occurs when two ideas usually unrelated to each other come together in such a way that they create something new, an original pattern of things. We’ll hear about that so often the weeks ahead that we’ve chosen as the patron saint of these series Janus, the Roman God of doorways and beginnings, whose two faces looking at different directions at the same time — that ability to see the virgin ideas and bring them together — lies at the heart of the creative breakthrough.

We realized early in our reporting that any full picturing of creativity requires many images. So you’ll be meeting a variety of people who exemplify the creative process in different ways. But all of them challenge assumptions. They work hard; they find patterns where none seem to exist. They take risks, seize upon chance and often collaborate with other creative people.

They’re not geniuses. The people we filmed, although often extraordinary, are not so extraordinary that we cannot in some respects see ourselves in them. My colleagues and I have come to see creativity in more common than cosmic terms. We’re persuaded that the accident of birth and luck notwithstanding, creativity can be nurtured so that more of us in our own particular way can affect the quality of the day.

MAYA ANGELOU: When I read Shakespeare and heard that music, I couldn’t believe it, that a white man could write so musically. Now I already, mind you, had an affection for Poe, because I liked his rhythm, I liked, “Then upon that velvet sinking, I betook myself to thinking, fancy him unto fancy linking” –it’s marvelous. It’s rhythmic. Then, when I read Shakespeare, “When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes.” I wept, because I thought myself certainly in disgrace with fortune, being black and poor and female in the South, and I was also out of grace with men’s eyes because I wasn’t pretty.

Maya Angelou

BILL MOYERS: Maya Angelou, we begin our series with her. She has written two best sellers and three selections of poetry. She has produced, directed and acted for the stage. She adopted Sophocles’ Ajax to modern theater, wrote the original screenplay and music score for the film Georgia, Georgia and wrote and produced a 10-part TV series on African traditions in America. Many of you will remember her as Kunta Kinte’s grandmother in “Roots” a role she modeled after her own grandmother who raised her. Some of us remember her as a civil rights activist in the ’60s. All of these have brought her many honors. But it’s not her career as such that prompts us to begin a series about creativity with Maya Angelou. It’s because her whole personality tests our own creativity beyond talent and technique, beyond success and a claim to consider some basic truth, that life itself is an artistic expression that we can never look at creativity in terms of what goes on in a person for what’s occurring is always a process connecting the person with the world. It is indeed the stuff of one’s dream, one’s groping apprehension of reality, in ones own personal vision combining to represent as the writer would put it, today nourished by yesterday and preceding into tomorrow. It’s all of a piece beginning in childhood and that’s why I asked Maya Angelou to go home, home for her first real visit in 30 years to a little town in Southwest Arkansas not far from where I grew up in East Texas. I knew that some terrible and wonderful things have happened in Stamps, Arkansas, to a little girl name Marguerite Johnson that her own nascent creativity was first threatened and forged there. She didn’t want to go back, too many ghosts. But at last she consented, and so begins our journey home.

MAYA ANGELOU: In my memory, Stamps is a place of light, shadow, sounds and enchanting odors. The earth smell was pungent, spiced with the odor of cattle manure, the yellowish acid of the ponds and rivers, the deep pots of greens and beans cooking for hours with smoked or cured pork. Flowers added their heavy aroma and, above all, the atmosphere was pressed down with the smell of old fears and hates and guilt.

“Because the truth is you never can leave home. You take it with you everywhere you go, it’s under your skin, it moves the tongue or slows it, the colors, the thinking impedes upon the logic.” – Maya Angelou
I am a writer and Stamps must remain for me in that nebulous, unreal reality, because I’m a poet and I have to draw from these shadows, these densities, these phantas, phantasmagories for my poetry. I don’t want it to become a place on the map. Because the truth is you never can leave home. You take it with you everywhere you go, it’s under your skin, it moves the tongue or slows it, the colors, the thinking impedes upon the logic. So, as I, the time came for me to actually come to Stamps, I started to dread it. I started to ah, really fear the ghosts who I was about to bestir.

Is that all the size of the bridge? Miss Lizzy lived there; Willie Williams still lives there. My lord, I used to come to fish on the pond there. And people were also baptized right there. I was terribly hurt in this town and vastly loved.

We lived with our grandmother and uncle in the rear of the store. Until I was 13 and left Arkansas for good, the store was my favorite place to be. Alone and empty in the morning it looked like an unopened present from a stranger. Opening the front doors was pulling the ribbon off the unexpected gift.

BILL MOYERS: If anyone has never been in an old country store, you just can’t imagine what it did to the imagination. I can remember right now the feel of the seed bags at Gillary’s Grocery and the smell of old TJ Taylor’s potato beds. Just make you feel so good to go in there.

MAYA ANGELOU: That’s it.

BILL MOYERS: It was a wonderful world for a child white or black.

MAYA ANGELOU: Oh, well, you can’t imagine it now, but it used to be filled with shelves, which had all sorts of exciting, exotic things like sardines from Portugal. Port-tu-gal was the way we pronounced it. We pronounced it as carefully as we pronounced the game we played which was monopoley.

BILL MOYERS: Moneypoley?

MAYA ANGELOU: Well, we found out when we got to California it was really Monopoly.

BILL MOYERS: What else did you see here? What else was on those shelves?


BILL MOYERS: It was sort of like an enchanted land.

MAYA ANGELOU: It was an enchanted land. There were things from Kansas, that is, you know, were canned in Kansas and Louisiana and even things from New York City and we had matches from Ohio, so there… I mean that was.

BILL MOYERS: That was living!

MAYA ANGELOU: That was big time! All the whites who picked up cotton pickers would pick them up in front of our store and about dawn the wagons would come rolling in — we’d open the store early so they could buy peanut patties, cans of sardines, hunks of cheese and take them out to the cotton fields. And then they would bring them back at dusk just about dark. We would fold out of these wagons dead-tired beat, but on Saturday — big day Saturday at the store — then the people would talk and they would be so sassy and then if a white person would come, they’d become meek and “sir, yes sir, that’s right.” And you would see this thing that happened, this mask, or these masks, and Paul Laurence Dunbar helped me to understand that.

BILL MOYERS: With that poem.

MAYA ANGELOU: With the poem:

“We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It shades our cheeks and hides our eyes,
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth myriad subtleties.
Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the masks.”

When I was a child, this was called the pond and I knew that people bragged that it had the best sun perch in all of Arkansas, but I’d forgotten how beautiful it was. It’s really lovely.

BILL MOYERS: Did you, did you think then it was beautiful?

MAYA ANGELOU: No, not at all, not at — it was just the pond. And on the other side, on the black side of the pond, ah, churches had their baptisms. That to me was beautiful, but the actual topography, I don’t — didn’t remember it. It’s lovely.

BILL MOYERS: You say the other side of the pond. There really were two Stamps, weren’t there?

MAYA ANGELOU: Oh, yes. It started the black part of Stamps started right there at that bridge.

BILL MOYERS: Where that fellow is fishing?

MAYA ANGELOU: Well there and behind us, at the — at the, ah, railroad tracks. This was more or less “no man’s land” here, because if you were black you never felt really safe when you simply crossed the railroad tracks. You still had to go all this way, it was like an international tarmac where anybody could get you. You were really in the black part of town when you crossed that little bridge and the pond then you’re safe. Then if you didn’t know everybody at least everybody knew who you were, you know. And as a child it was a chance to have some protection. And I used to have to walk over here. Oh gosh I hated it. I had no protection at all over there. I had an idea of protection on this side. I had my grandmother on this side. I had the church; my uncle and all my people were on this side. So I had an idea of protection, but there I would be all-alone and I loathed it, crossing those railroad tracks. Bill, I tell you, to show you how much things don’t change, I’m not even going to cross it with you now. I don’t, I don’t– I’m not doing this for any reason other than I really do not want to go across there. I really don’t.

BILL MOYERS: I understand. So what are you thinking right now?

MAYA ANGELOU: You stay on my side and we’ll both be safe.

(church singing)

MAYA ANGELOU: Many years ago I was with an opera company. And the company was Porgy and Bess and we traveled through Europe and we arrived in Morocco and they said, we want you to sing, do a concert, but I was the first dancer of the company and I had never studied opera. So I told the conductor, I said, “I’m sorry that is not my discipline I can’t sing opera. I have no arias ready.” So he was Russian and he turned to me with gray hair sticking out like that, he said, “But don’t you know a spiritual?” And I just grinned and thought about Stamps, Arkansas, where from the time I was three, Mama took me to church on Sunday. I don’t mean she took me to church and then we went home. I mean we went to church all day Sunday. Then on Monday evening we went to missionary meeting, Tuesday evening usher board 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 main stage alone and sang.

“I am a pilgrim of sorrow. I’m lost in this wide world alone. No hope have I for tomorrow. I’ve started to make him my home. My mother, she found her sweet glory, and my father, still living in sin, and my brothers and sisters won’t own me because I am trying to get in. Sometime I’m toast and I’ve driven long. Sometimes I don’t know where to run. Oh, but I’ve heard all a city called heaven. And I started to make it my home.”

(congregation response)

When I finished singing this song, “The Sorrow Song,” songs written not by 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 where people couldn’t stop screaming. I mean they just shouted and stomped, 4,500 people shouting and screaming at you in another language. But people started to sing back to me, “Steal away” in Arabic! “hummmmm” humming I didn’t know what to do. Then I began to think, Oh, 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. No names that would make people shake in the marketplace Rockefeller, ooh, and people started trembling. But what they gave me, look at what they gave me my Lord! Look at what they gave me! It opened doors for me all over the world. Look at it. Hmm it’s a great blessing. So, I ask you for your prayers. I beg you for your prayers. I thank you with all my heart and please sing with me “Steal Away” choirs would you — all just please stand up?

Would you — all? Mr. Rocky come on, come on Davis child.

“Steal Away, steal away, steal away home I ain’t got long to stay here”

MAYA ANGELOU: Louise was a lonely girl. Her face had a thin sheet of sadness over it, as light but as permanent as the viewing gauze on a coffin. She became my first friend.

LOUISE: Someone said, “Louise, do you know your name is in one of Margaret’s book?” And she said, “You go to Magnolia and you can find this book at the library.”

MAYA ANGELOU: What it meant to me that you were my friend, I mean when you come down the hill and all these long legs.

LOUISE: I was skippin’ trying to remember when I used to pick up hickory nuts out there.

MAYA ANGELOU: That’s right.

LOUISE: And you stood and I got to pick up hickory nuts and — I’d go home and eat those hickory nuts all so.

MAYA ANGELOU: That must be very important for children.

LOUISE: That’s right.

MAYA ANGELOU: That first friendship where you learn you can trust, you can tell a secret.

LOUISE: You sure can.

MAYA ANGELOU: And know that person would not tell it to a soul.

LOUISE: That’s right.

MAYA ANGELOU: Coz we used to tell, we thought they were important. Secrets.

LOUISE: You should be here now.

MAYA ANGELOU: I’m here now.

LOUISE: I mean living here now.

MAYA ANGELOU: Oh, come on. Wait a minute. I have a few things to do.


MAYA ANGELOU: I have a few things to do in other places.

LOUISE: Someone said you was on the Johnny Carson Show.

MAYA ANGELOU: Yes, I’ve done all the show(s).

LOUISE: I guess I work all the time and I don’t get to…

MAYA ANGELOU: I guess so.

LOUISE: And you must always send me a card.


LOUISE: Drop me a card.

MAYA ANGELOU: I will. I will. I will never lose touch with you. I never forgot you. Now, that’s obvious.

LOUISE: I know that. I know that.

MAYA ANGELOU: But, I mean–

LOUISE: But you know, you get grown, you get away from each other.

MAYA ANGELOU: I know. And you got your life to live. Yeah and you have your children and their children and then husbands, of which I have a few! Come on. I have I finally married my own husband. My mother has a theory that most people marry other people’s husbands.

LOUISE: How many husbands?

MAYA ANGELOU: I’ve had enough. But I finally have my own. I’ve been married eight years.

LOUISE: Eight years? Well good.

MAYA ANGELOU: Well good! And you’ve been married how many?

LOUISE: Thirty-six! So you just a.

MAYA ANGELOU: I’m a woman. I’m a woman and I was looking for a man.

LOUISE: What is your husband’s name?

MAYA ANGELOU: My husband’s name is Paul du Fer

LOUISE: du Fer, that sounds like–

MAYA ANGELOU: It does sound like that, uh hum, uh hum. It sounds just like you too. I trying to ask a question.

LOUISE: Do you know me?

MAYA ANGELOU: Oh, yes. That sound just like you. Instead of asking the question out right, you say, “That’s sounds like a foreigner,” waiting for me to fall in the trap. Well you know me!

LOUISE: You’re too smart to fall in the trap, huh?

MAYA ANGELOU: This town is all ears. That’s all we’ve got our ears, where the people walk by calmly as if nothing at all is happening, and they record everything that is happening. The way you are sitting now is being recorded at this moment and will become a part of the lore of my family. People will 40 years from now three years from now it was early in the 1980s when eight or nine white folks came from New York City and they had these cameras and this white man sat with his hand like this and his knee up, all of that is being recorded and it stays. Nothing that’s why you really can’t leave Stamps, I never have. I mean I take it with me. I am a Stampsonian, I am a recorder and it’s not particularly kind, it’s not particularly cruel. It’s just very ingrown. I started reading early, very early. Every book in the library I could actually be on the moors, followed by lovely, adoring and obedient dogs on my way to a house where I would sit and drink tea, whatever that was. I only heard of iced tea, you know, in the South. I never heard of anybody drinking hot tea.

BILL MOYERS: Much less moors!

MAYA ANGELOU: Moors and milk in the tea, but I would sit there and have tea. But those books allowed me, showed me doors, which led to — to degrees of freedom.

BILL MOYERS: What were some of the books?

MAYA ANGELOU: I loved Shakespeare.

MAYA MOYERS: I think you wrote somewhere that Shakespeare was your first white love.

MAYA ANGELOU: That’s true. When I read Shakespeare and heard that music, I couldn’t believe it, that a white man could write so musically. Now I already, mind you, had an affection for Poe, because I liked his rhythm, I liked, “Then upon that velvet sinking, I betook myself to thinking, fancy unto fancy linking” –it’s marvelous. It’s rhythmic. Then, when I read Shakespeare, “When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,” I — I — I wept, because I thought myself certainly in disgrace with fortune, being black and poor and female in the South, and I was also out of grace with men’s eyes because I wasn’t pretty.

BILL MOYERS: You weren’t pretty?

MAYA ANGELOU: I weren’t pretty — I wasn’t pretty. Oh, I was strange looking, although Mama told me I was pretty. And people admired her so much. She was the most powerful person in the world. I thought at one time that, ah, I may be I was the only person that knew it, but I knew she was God. She was straight and strong and kind and all that and she adored me.

MAYA ANGELOU: You knew my grandmother Annie Henderson.

MRS. FLORIDA: Oh, yes ma’am, yeah. She was a Shannon wasn’t she?

MAYA ANGELOU: That’s right.

MRS. FLORIDA: And lived in Magnolia, the Shannons did.

MAYA ANGELOU: That’s right.

MRS. FLORIDA: They had a brother named Gus Shannon that was a preacher.

MAYA ANGELOU: That’s right. Well, my great-grandmother’s name was Kentucky Shannon.

Mrs. Florida Harris, 102 years old, she reminded me that my grandmother and they were contemporaries.

MAYA ANGELOU: I remember that name.

MRS. FLORIDA: Sun Lizzie?

MAYA ANGELOU: Sure do. I said it’s a strange name. It’s very pretty.

MRS. FLORIDA: Well then, she had a sister named Lois – Lois Jones.

MAYA ANGELOU: My grandmother was a quiet, very powerful woman who many people loved because she was kind. But she was absolute. There was absolutely no give.

People used to come into the store and they’d say, “Oh, Sister Henderson, it’s just awful today. It’s just terrible. I can’t stand it. It’s killing me, this heat” or this cold, and my grandmother would say, “Uh hum. Yes, ma’am.” And as soon as the people would leave, she would call me and I knew what she was going to say. She said it so often I could have mouthed it with her, but if I had I’d got knocked out that front door. She’d say, “Sister, did you just hear what Sister Murphy said or Brother Thompson said?” And I’d say, “Yes, ma’am.” She turned and her eyes would get like stones. She’d say, “Sister, there are people all over this planet who went to sleep last night when Sister Murphy went to sleep, who will never wake again. Their beds have become their cooling boards and their blankets have become their winding sheets and they would give anything for five minutes of what that person was complaining about.”

Her contemporaries called her Sister Henderson, Mother Henderson, Mrs. Henderson. These little white kid would come in and called her Annie. That was worse than abusing me, you understand? It was terrifying that I could be so powerless that this great powerful woman, who was my protection, couldn’t protect herself, nor could she protect her son, really, from this kind of violation, intrusion. Ah for myself, for me, the white kids –well, I fought them quite a lot.

BILL MOYERS: Physically?

MAYA ANGELOU: Physically, of course. I would hit a stone. I would hit a tree, of course. I had a rage that just -– I kept in my teeth. As soon as one would look at me, I would hit him or her and quite often got beaten up, too, but, but I would hit anybody one time. And it wouldn’t clear me of my rage and could never get enough to get my rage out. So one of my fantasies when I was, oh, seven — six or seven was it. 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. Where white men and women could look you with such loathing that you really wished either that you could dry up, in a moment just shrivel up like that. And instead of that, I’d put my head up and walk through, grit my teeth, survived it. But my God, what scars does that leave on somebody? How, I don’t even dare to examine it myself. And when I reached for the pen —

BILL MOYERS: To write?

MAYA ANGELOU: To write, I have to scrape it across those scars to sharpen that point. And yet I still have never yet really gone down to look at those scars. I would, I would just think I might dissolve. They’re very serious. They’re very deep. The power of hate is almost as strong as the power of love. The best way, of course, for me to get out was through the music and the poetry. It wasn’t so much a belief in God as it was love of the music.

BILL MOYERS: The music of the church?

MAYA ANGELOU: Music of the church.

BILL MOYERS: What did that music say?

MAYA ANGELOU: Ah, well, there was a promise you see. Always in the black spirituals there is that promise that things are going to be better by and by, now, not in any recognizable date, but by and by things were going to be better. There was that and then there was this incredible poetry, which I don’t know why I knew it at the time that it was great poetry but lines like there’s a line in a spiritual that always made me weep when I was about eight and the line is; “Green trees are bendin’ for sinisters are tremblin’.” Now, Bill it still does, it can bring tears to my eyes. That somehow listening to it, I transcended the pit.

MAYA ANGELOU: Oh, God bless you, honey.


MAYA ANGELOU: God bless you. You know my prayers are with you. You went to school – where did you go to school?

YOUNG STUDENT: I went to school at Octavia Henderson (inaudible)

MAYA ANGELOU: Uh hum. Oh, and so you’re going to Des Moines, Iowa.

YOUNG STUDENT: I’m leaving next Thursday.

MAYA ANGELOU: With the federal government? What a blessing.

YOUNG STUDENT: Thank you so much.

MAYA ANGELOU: What a blessing.

YOUNG STUDENT: I’m proud of myself.

MAYA ANGELOU: At least I can tell you my dear, since I grew up right here on this piece of land, it is a wonderful thing to come home and have people say you’re a blessing and not a curse. You’ve then put Stamps on the map. Stamps darling, creates survivors. Believe it, Stamps. In this town you have to be pretty tough. Ask me. You keep your sweetness always, but inside, underneath that sweetness, is a ball of steel there. Absolutely. And you don’t okey-doke in Des Moines, when somebody talks to you stuff like a radio say, “Hey baby, let me tell you,” you don’t go for that. You don’t go for the — you select carefully, because you are born to survive if you’re born and raised in this town.

OLD FRIEND: You never, I don’t think, had the slightest intention — you understand what I mean, that you would be just a person. If you stand here, they wouldn’t know you from white or black. You never thought of it like that. You say, “I’m going to do it. I’m going to do it and regardless of who would be around or who hear or who sees” and, you made it, and I am so proud. (in another language) I present to you…

MAYA ANGELOU:(responds in the same language)

OLD FRIEND: Coz they were demolishing, I mean, changing the store around, and I saw it and I kept saying I was going to send it, you know. Some of your works remember?

MAYA ANGELOU: My God. Mrs. Reidy? Little short, skinny woman? Yeah, I took piano from her. Oh darling, God bless you. Really, really, all that — I thought every thing from my childhood was gone. You know the thing I appreciate this with all my heart.

OLD FRIEND: I felt you would–

MAYA ANGELOU: I appreciate it with all my heart. I can’t — I really can’t —

BILL MOYERS: So many people here who touched you.

MAYA ANGELOU: Yeah. There was one woman in particular; there was one woman, Mrs. Flowers. Mrs. Flowers was the lady of Stamps. Well-to-do, she was very, very black and very, very beautiful. I thought she was — she was pretty. Now that was a pretty woman and she seemed to me always to wear a voile, which is an old cloth, old material, its like a cotton chiffon which waves and she’d wear talcum powder and there’d always be a little of the talcum on this pretty black skin. And she spoke as softly as my grandmother. She’d walk up the road and pass going to her house. She had a summer house here. Ah, one day she stopped and she talked a few minutes with my grandmother. My grandmother would come off the porch. Now, that was a big step for my grandmother, because Mama used to stand on the arch to talk to people. But when Mrs. Flowers came, Mama would come out the door and step down and they would stand together and talk. So this day Mrs. Flowers said she wanted to invite me to her home. It was during the time when I couldn’t talk and wouldn’t talk.

BILL MOYERS: How old were you?

MAYA ANGELOU: I guess I was about eight, and Mama said, “Sister, Mrs. Flowers is inviting you to her home. Well, the — the beauty of the town, the most wonderful person in town to invite me, I couldn’t believe it. It was just — it was just as if someone had said, “Here’s a million dollars. Do any thing you want with it.” I followed her to her house and all the shades were drawn. It was very cool in there just like her, dark and cool. She raised to the shades and she had already made these big tea cookies that we make in the South, huge, flat things and the smell of vanilla and the house smelled of vanilla and she served me, which was very unusual because children usually serve the older. She served me. I couldn’t speak all the way up to her house, which must be a half-mile, and she gave me iced lemonade and then she sat down. And she said, “Now, Marguerite, I’m going to read a book to you. It’s called the Tale of Two Cities.” This is the very way she talked. “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” I thought I had already seen that. In my house I had had that book, but I didn’t know it sounded like that. So, she read to me and then she told me that poetry was music written for the human voice. She must have told me that 50 times. Then she said, “Now, what I want you to do is I want you to try by yourself to say a poem.” So, I’d get under my grandmother’s bed, she had a high bed, you know, the mattress was up high — and I would get under the bed and try saying some of the poems out loud. I could hear them in my head, but to say them out loud. And finally through her and poetry I began to talk.

BILL MOYERS: You said you would not talk?


BILL MOYERS: Why? What was it?

MAYA ANGELOU: Well, I had had a, a difficulty in St. Louis when I was seven-and-a-half. I had been had been raped and the person who had raped me was killed. I said he – I called his name and he was killed. And I thought at the time that it was my voice that caused the man to be dead and so I just refused to put my voice out and put anybody else in danger.

BILL MOYERS: And Mrs. Flowers?

MAYA ANGELOU: Mrs. Flowers gave me back my voice.

TEACHER: Boys and girls I am happy this time to make a presentation, this is quite a unique honor I’m going to present to you a lady of Arkansas, a person that is internationally known, a famous person from Stamps. At this time I am going to present to you the person who will speak to you briefly. Mrs. Marguerite Angelou and she will present to you her presentation in her own way.

MAYA ANGELOU: Thank you very much. Thank you. Ah, I must tell you first that I’m a little nervous. Although I appear so calm, in my heart the blood is going (making funny sounds) and yet — and yet I just pull myself up and I talk softly and I act cool, but that is not the truth at all. Now, how many of you really saw Roots? Hold up your hands. Everyone saw Roots. Now, you may put your hands down. I played in Roots. Does anybody in here know who I played? Kunta Kinte’s grandmother. Do you remember in the first one in Africa?


MAYA ANGELOU: OK. So sometimes I do act, but most of the time what I do is write. And I write poems about people like you about your size. So, I’m going to say one of those. This is called “Harlem Hopscotch.” Ok now, you know hopscotch. It’s always like–

(makes descriptive sounds)

Right? That’s the time. I mean, when you hop, you go–

(descriptive sounds)

Right? The rhythm. But anywhere where a group of black children are jumping hopscotch, it’s not just

(descriptive sounds)

It becomes..

(descriptive sounds)

Right! You can laugh, you know it’s true for yourself. In the air, now but don’t stick around. Food is gone, rent is due, cuss and cry and then jump, today’s out of work, hold for three and then twist and jerk cross the line, they count you out, but that’s what hoppin’s all about, the feet down, the game is done. They said you lost, I believe you won.” Thank you very much for listening to me. I would love to be an encouragement. Really, I would love that. You’re at a curious time now in your age. You’ll remember certain things and some things you’ll forget forever, but I hope you’ll remember me. Get your work done. Study, 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. You have a chance. I — I have you in my heart. I see myself in you as a young person in Stamps. I hope you see yourselves in me. Thank you for your hospitality.


BILL MOYERS: Watching Maya Angelou with those children I wondered how many others like her were in that very classroom and in schools everywhere, the urge to create lie in each new seed in a spring soil. And I wondered in how many unlike her experience the ground will never be broken. The promise never touched by the season’s warmth, so that the idea longing to be expressed, the dream germinating in the darker of the frustration ties there. Or erupts in time destructively. I think its true as wiser men then I have noted that the suppression of this, this life within us lies at the base of so much of the day’s waste, violence and mindless cruelty. For the artist the craftsman is not necessarily the more gifted among us but the more fortunate. For the inner life to flourish, everyone needs to be touched by someone that comes through time and time again in the weeks ahead. With Maya Angelou it was a grandmother who loved her vastly and a radiant black angel who read Dickens to a little girl not quite eight. They signified her worth. They said “you” matter. They turned her suffering rage upward and brought the poet to life. It is not a scientifically certifiable fact that each child born into the world comes with a potential to create. It’s rather a statement of faith. But I can’t imagine any declaration more important for our society to make, where our heart is so to perhaps our treasure. I’m Bill Moyers.

The full video can be purchased for educational purposes through Films Media Group. For more information, contact the production company, IPF Media.

  • submit to reddit