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Why Maya Angelou wanted to become a street car conductor

Maya Angelou (Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post) Maya Angelou (Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

In the 1940s, a  16-year-old Maya Angelou set her mind on becoming a cable car conductor in San Francisco. She had her reasons.

“I saw women on the street cars with their little changer belts. They had caps with bibs on them and form-fitting jackets. I loved their uniforms. I said that is the job I want,” Angelou told Oprah Winfrey during an interview last year.

It took some doing, but Angelou got the job, becoming the first African American female conductor on San Francisco’s famed cable cars. The poet received a lifetime-achievement award from the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials during a program Wednesday celebrating “Women Who Move the Nation.”

The goal of the conference is to increase minority leadership in the transportation industry, where women make up only 17 percent of managers, according to another advocacy group. The Women’s Transportation Seminar, a Washington-based organization dedicated to advancing women in the transportation industry, said in a 2010 report that although women comprise 47 percent of the workforce in the country, they make up “less than 13% of the total workforce in transportation-related occupations such as urban and regional planning, civil engineering, architecture, surveying, and construction management.”

Read the full story about Angelou’s quest to become a cable car conductor, and the award that she received on Post Local.

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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