What Is Maya Angelou Birth Name

Maya Angelou’s birth name was Marguerite Annie Johnson. She was born in St. Louis, Missouri on April the 4th 1928 in a family of four siblings. Her parents, Bailey and Vivian (Baxter) Johnson, divorced when Angelou was just three years old. Upon her father’s remarriage, Angelou and her brother were sent to Arkansas to live with her grandmother, Annie Henderson. Henderson gave Angelou the name “Maya,” which means “my lamp” or “my sea” in Swahili.

Maya Angelou got her name from her first husband, Tosh Angelos, who she married in 1951. She later adopted the name after enrolling in the North Carolina College for Negroes as a dance and drama major. Angelou later became a successful singer and dancer in Los Angeles, where she adopted the last name of her then husband, Angelo.

Angelou earned her Bachelor’s degree in 1964, becoming Dr. Maya Angelou, a title she adopted following a move to Ghana in 1961. After returning to the United States, Angelou performed and wrote extensively, and published her autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, in 1970, which became a best-seller.

In her writing works, like her famous book, Angelou also reflects on her childhood and the various identities of being an African-American woman. Thus her true birth name, Marguerite Annie Johnson, became known as a literary figure as “Maya Angelou”, one of the most beloved and popular writers of the United States.

In her life and works, Maya Angelou crafted her identity through her adopted name and embraced it, embodying the resilience of African-Americans despite the discrimination, racism, and sexism she suffered in her lifetime. Also known for her extensive poetry, Angelou was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011, and received over 50 honorary degrees, making her one of the most celebrated authors and activists of her generations.

Early Life of Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou was born on April 4th, 1928 and baptized with the name Marguerite Johnson. She spent her early childhood with her parents, Bailey and Vivian (Baxter), Johnson, in St. Louis, Missouri. Soon after, her parents divorced and Angelou, along with her brother, was sent to Arkansas to live with her grandmother, Annie Henderson. In Arkansas, Angelou was given the name “Maya”, which means “my lamp” or “my sea” in Swahili.

Maya Angelou was raised in a segregated and racially hostile society, along with her grandmother’s faith, which was deeply rooted in Christianity but also African-American folklore. Angelou credited her grandmother with instilling deep influences in her life, including resilience and a strong sense of purpose.

Angelou was only eight years old when her father remarried and brought her and her brother to St. Louis, to live with him and their step-mother. Back then, segregation was still very strong in Missouri and Angelou, as a young African-American, faced the challenges of systemic racism everyday.

At the age of 14, Angelou found her refuge in writing and began writing poetry, thus establishing her early identity as a poet and forever connecting with the power of words. In 1945, Angelou moved to California and met her first husband, John Leslie Rice.

In California, Angelou developed her first professional career, becoming a singer, dancer and actress. She then married Tosh Angelos and adopted his last name as her personal name, becoming Maya Angelou.

Education of Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou had very little education due to the discrimination she faced in her early life. Despite being enrolled in the first African-American grammar school in St. Louis, Angelou was prevented from further advancement due to the segregated school system and never graduated high school.

In her early twenties, Angelou took courses at the University of California, Berkeley, and also became actively involved in the Civil Rights movement. After years of advocacy, Angelou enrolled in the North Carolina College for Negroes as a dance and drama major, while also continuing to write.

In 1960, Angelou moved to Ghana to start a new life. The next year, she earned a degree in philosophy and later on a Bachelor’s degree in 1964. In Ghana, Angelou made a name for herself as a professional performer, and published her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, in 1970, which became a best-seller.

In her late adulthood, Angelou continued her education by receiving over 50 honorary degrees from universities from around the world. She also earned a third doctoral degree from the University of Arkansas in 1993.

Career of Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou began her professional career as a performer, becoming a singer and dancer in Los Angeles, which enabled her to travel across Europe and Asia. Back in the US, Angelou became involved in country-wide theatre productions, plays and movies.

Soon after, Angelou made her debut as an author with her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, in 1970, which became a national best seller. This book earned Angelou credence and made her the first African-American woman whose autobiography was published.

Her literary works, like poetry and essays, sought to bring awareness to the struggles of African-American women and established Angelou’s importance in the fields of literature and social activism. Angelou gave lectures and served as visiting professor at universities from all over the world, and served as an ambassador to South Africa from 2009 to 2011.

In her lifetime, Angelou became a cultural leader not only for African-Americans but for women from all backgrounds. She gained the respect of her peers, earning numerous recognitions and awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Lincoln Medal, National Book Award, and the National Medal of Arts, to name a few.

In addition to her books and performances, Angelou has also engaged in a variety of professional activities, including teaching, writing, film production, and setting up workshops and seminars. Her powerful speeches and writing have left a lasting impression on the world, making Angelou one of the most influential African-American authors of our time.

Legacy of Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou’s legacy as a poet, civil rights activist and a revered figure goes beyond her written words, and includes a vast variety of activities, such as lecturing, storytelling and activism, among others.

Angelou was an advocate of equality, celebrated for her work in advancing social, racial and gender rights, and frequently engaged in activism through her writing and public appearances. Her career was a landmark for African-American women and for every woman who dreamt of speaking up for her rights.

Maya Angelou’s poetry and reflecting essays have inspired generations and continue to be admired for their honesty, breadth, and candor. As a testament to her importance throughout the world and her role in women’s rights, education and social causes, Angelou has been awarded over 50 honorary degrees during her lifetime.

Even after her death in 2014, Angelou’s legacy and her impact on the world continue to be remembered, respected and celebrated. Her unique style as a poet, her refusal to yield to oppression, and her commitment to justice, will always be an example to admire and follow.

Impact of Maya Angelou

The impact of Maya Angelou’s writing and activism has had a huge impact and left a lasting legacy. Her voice as a social advocate, as well as her use of language as a means of expression, is apparent in her poem that beautifully articulated the pain of racism, ‘Still I Rise’, included in her autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

The poem was a major hit and inspired generations. In 1971, Angelou became the second African-American woman to have a screenplay produced. Angelou wrote the screenplay Georgia, Georgia, set in a segregated Georgia town, which was then released with a great deal of acclaim.

In later years, Angelou’s poem ‘On the Pulse of Morning’, was chosen by President Bill Clinton and was read by Angelou at his 1993 presidential inauguration.

Angelou’s work has been extensively anthologized in a variety of languages and editions. As a testament to her influence, Angelou has received honorary degrees, the National Medal of Arts, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Lincoln Medal, and numerous other awards.

To this day, Angelou’s works continue to be cherished and shared, making her one of the most celebrated African-American authors of our time. Her powerful words will continue to inspire generations for years to come.

Dannah Hannah is an established poet and author who loves to write about the beauty and power of poetry. She has published several collections of her own works, as well as articles and reviews on poets she admires. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English, with a specialization in poetics, from the University of Toronto. Hannah was also a panelist for the 2017 Futurepoem book Poetry + Social Justice, which aimed to bring attention to activism through poetry. She lives in Toronto, Canada, where she continues to write and explore the depths of poetry and its influence on our lives.

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