Dr. Maya Angelou: From San Francisco Cable Car Operator to Civil Rights Activist, Poet, Author, Actress

Posted by Billyjam, January 27, 2014 10:40am | Post a Comment

Dr. Maya Angelou at Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco

"A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song " – Maya Angelou

In salute of African American living legends, this tribute to Maya Angelou is the first in a series for the 2014 Amoeblog Black History Month. Maya Angelou, who will turn 86 on April 4th, was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1928. She would go on to live a trailblazing life in which her accolades would include being an activist, author, actress, screenwriter, educator, dancer, singer, poet, and San Francisco cable car operator. In the 1940's during World War II Angelou moved to the city by the bay (she would return to San Francisco a decade later) after winning a scholarship to study dance and acting at the California Labor School. During that time she briefly held a job as a SF cable car operator. Even at that she was a pioneer in her field by being the very first black female cable car conductor. And that would be only one of numerous "firsts" for Angelou during her influential life.

Angelou's 1969 coming-of-age memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which her friend James Baldwin was instrumental in getting published, made literary history for being the first nonfiction best-seller by an African-American woman. It also broke records by later enjoying a two-year run on The New York Times' paperback nonfiction best-seller list. Angelou was also the first African-American woman to have her screenplay produced when, in 1972, the film screenplay for the film Georgia, Georgia was adapted from her book.

As a singer in 1957, during the then popular phase of calypso music, Angelou recorded her debut album Miss Calypso (reissued on CD two decades later). As a participant in the Civil Rights movement, she worked alongside Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. (who was coincidentally killed on her birthday, April 4th).  Angelou has never stopped being an important voice in civil rights in this country. As recently as last summer she weighed in on the George Zimmerman trial verdict putting it into historical perspective in an engaging interview with Time magazine. In 1993 she recited one of her poems at President Bill Clinton's inaugural ceremony, making it the first inaugural recitation since 1961. That poem she recited that day was "On the Pulse of Morning," which is one of her best-known pieces along with her poetry collection book Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'Fore I Die. Angelou, who has served on two presidential committees, was awarded the Presidential Medal for the Arts in 2000 and was awarded the Lincoln Medal in 2008. In 2011, President Barack Obama presented Angelou with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. See the video below for her speech during this momentous occasion. Above is another recent era video clip of Maya Angelou from when she returned to San Francisco to stop by Cecil Williams' Glide Memorial church in the Tenderloin district.


Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipient - Maya Angelou

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Black History Month 2014 (6), Black History Month (134), Black History Month Amoeblog (4), Maya Angelou (4)