April 4, 1928

Maya Angelou delivering a poem at the inauguration of Bill Clinton
William J. Clinton Presidential Library

Maya Angelou was born in St. Louis on this date in 1928. Better know as Maya Angelou, she went on to be nominated for Pulitzer Prize in poetry and a Tony Award and to win three Grammys. She also broke many barriers: She was the first black woman to be a streetcar conductor in San Francisco. She was the first black woman to write a screenplay for a film that was made. And she was the first black woman to direct a major motion picture, among other achievements.

Maya Angelou, born Marguerite Annie Johnson was an author, poet, and civil rights activist. She is perhaps best known for her series of seven autobiographies, which focus on her childhood and early adult experiences. The first and most famous of these, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, tells of her life up to the age of 17 and brought her international recognition and acclaim.

Angelou’s career was varied and prolific. In addition to her autobiographies, she published several volumes of poetry, including Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. She was also a successful playwright, actress, and singer. In the 1960s, she became active in the civil rights movement, working alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Her commitment to social justice and equality was a central theme in her writing and public speaking.

In 1993, Angelou recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton, becoming the first African American woman and the first poet to deliver a poem at a presidential inauguration since Robert Frost at John F. Kennedy’s. This event brought her even wider recognition.

Maya Angelou’s contributions to literature and civil rights have earned her numerous awards and honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which was awarded to her by President Barack Obama in 2011. She passed away on May 28, 2014, at the age of 86, but her legacy continues to inspire and influence people around the world.