“Lyrical Witness of the Jim Crow South”
The world lost a great treasure on Wednesday, May 28, 2014 with the passing of Dr. Maya Angelou who lived to be 86 years old. Earlier in the week her family said that she was not well, but I don’t think that anyone was prepared to hear that she had died. This wise woman was the kind of person who seemed to have been around forever and many of us thought that she would continue to be with us a while longer. Dr. Angelou was many things – a poet, an actress, a singer, a political activist, a professor and an all around phenomenal woman as proclaimed in her famous poem. The New York Times hailed her as a Lyrical Witness of the Jim Crow South. She rose up from terrible circumstances and became someone universally lauded as a great thinker and writer who performed for Presidents and inspired people from all walks of life with her very being. She was a tall, regal woman who spoke with the cadence and intonation of the sage that she was. When Queen Mother Maya told you that you were bright, beautiful and worthy of love and respect – you believed it. Her words tended to our psychological wounds and fed our hungry souls. Just as Ossie Davis declared Malcolm X to be our living Black manhood and shining prince, Dr. Angelou was just that for Black women. A champion, a crusader and an example.
With the death of someone so prominent and revered, I should have known that those with ulterior motives would try to appropriate her story for their own agenda, but I did not expect that to happen this fast. Dr. Angelou passed on a Wednesday and by Friday there were already stories about the Westboro Baptist attention whores — I will not refer to them as a church because they are vile and hateful — planning to picket her funeral which had yet to be announced. I thought that the death of their founder Fred Phelps last year meant that we’d heard the last of these disrespectful idiots, but they are still at it. Oddly enough, they kept the details of Phelps’ funeral secret so that they would not have to deal with this sort of disruption.
Since these vipers have no decency, I hope that the security around the area of the funeral will be enough to keep them far away from the services what with all the dignitaries and famous folks who are likely to attend. And if all else fails maybe they will finally run into some folks who can show them the error of their ways.
Now as sickening as the thought of a protest of our beloved teacher’s funeral may be, in an even worse turn of events, a blog about sex workers is claiming that Dr. Angelou’s past as a sex worker is being hidden in the name of respectability politics. Dr. Angelou already discussed this part of her life in her 1974 autobiography “Gather Together in My Name” and has said that while she is not ashamed of what she did, she does not recommend it:
“I wouldn’t suggest it for anybody. I mean, if you happen to fall into that sort of experience, what you have to do is forgive yourself. If you’re in the very gutter, see where you are and admit it. As soon as you admit it, you can be like the prodigal son, the prodigal daughter. Get up and go home – wherever home is.”
You cannot hide something that had been publicly documented, and while Dr. Angelou was not ashamed of her past, this is not exactly something to be celebrated. These people should not try to build their movement for social acceptance or whatever it is that they are seeking on Dr. Angelou’s name because she is not here to consent to it. And that was but a small portion of her life.
I understand that Dr. Angelou was many things to lots of different people but I had hoped that the opportunists might at least wait for her to be buried before they started trying to stake their claims on her biography. Let her family and friends grieve for a while before showing up like parasites trying to feed off someone else’s life. Dr. Angelou was a dignified woman and she deserves to have a respectful homegoing free of foolishness and fabricated controversies.