Recounting Maya Angelou’s Black History Month Special


Maya Angelou in June 1994 (Greer Studios/Corbis)

Maya Angelou’s voice boomed over the telephone in its liquid eloquence as she prepared for an interview about her Black History Month Special, which was broadcast on public radio in February 2012.

“The Civil Rights movement caught fire. It lifted our country out of the doldrums,” Angelou said. “It lifted us to even believe we could have freedom, to even believe we could have fair play, to even believe we could eradicate this vulgarity called racism.”

In a telephone interview from her home in North Carolina, Angelou explained why it was important for her to take part in the radio special, which featured conversations with civil rights figures Andrew Young, the former U.N. ambassador, and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.); economist Julianne Malveaux; singer Mary J. Blige; and poet Nikky Finney.

Angelou told me during that interview that it was imperative for her to hear these stories again. There is power, she said, in repetition.

“I know John Lewis well, and yet some of the facts he revealed, I guess I knew them 40 years ago in the ’60s, but I had let it go to sleep in my brain,” Angelou said. “It was good for him to recall some of the overt brutality he experienced. And, of course, the talk with Ambassador Young, who again is a brother-friend of mine, to hear him speak of the experience he had in the ’60s . . . re-revealed — if I can use that word — that which I knew long ago but had let go dormant.”

Angelou died May 28 at her home in Winston-Salem, N.C. She was 86.

Click here to listen to Angelou’s 2013 Black History Month special, which featured Oprah Winfrey, Alicia Keys, Jennifer Hudson, Kofi Annan, Jennifer Hudson and Regina Taylor.

DeNeen L. Brown is an award-winning staff writer at The Washington Post who has covered night police, education, courts, politics and culture.
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DeNeen L. Brown · May 28