A revered North Carolina poet laureate, world-famous author and civil rights champion who made an impact on American culture and society for more than 50 years, Marguerite Annie Johnson — known to the world as Maya Angelou — is best known for her multipart autobiography, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” in 1970, which documents the early years of her childhood in the Jim Crow South.
As a civil rights activist, Angelou worked for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Angelou also served on two presidential committees, for Gerald Ford in 1975 and for Jimmy Carter in 1977.
She was also an educator and accepted a lifetime teaching position at Wake Forest University as the first recipient of the Reynolds Professor of American Studies.
In 2010, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the U.S., by President Barack Obama. Angelou was awarded over 50 honorary degrees before her death.
Angelou’s work empowered the African American community and exposed her readers to the joys, pain, and complexities of the Black experience. In particular, Angelou encouraged Black women and girls to embrace their power and give voice to their truths.
As a whole, Angelou continues to influence, inspire, and enrich generation after generation through her decades of writing and activism.