Making Maya Angelou New
WF / AP Photo
Making Maya Angelou New
WF / AP Photo

In just 86 years Maya Angelou lived dozens of lives.

Perhaps best known for her seminal autobiography I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou is one of the most celebrated literary minds in history, whose poetry and prose has touched generations of readers. But before Caged Bird, Angelou danced and sang on and off Broadway, earned the moniker “Miss Calypso” in the 1950s, called dozens of American cities and African nations home, and even became the first Black woman to work as a cable car conductor in San Francisco.

On this episode of Making, host Brandon Pope leads a conversation on Maya Angelou’s early days and what made her who she was. Joining him is Rita Coburn, co-director of the Peabody-Award-winning PBS documentary Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise; Randal Jelks, professor of African and African American studies and American studies at the University of Kansas; and a legend in her own right, Dr. Maxine Mimms, the founder of the Tacoma Campus of Evergreen State College and a longtime friend of Angelou.

This season of Making covers a different, iconic figure every week. Subscribe and don’t miss an episode.

Making Maya Angelou New
WF / AP Photo
Making Maya Angelou New
WF / AP Photo

In just 86 years Maya Angelou lived dozens of lives.

Perhaps best known for her seminal autobiography I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou is one of the most celebrated literary minds in history, whose poetry and prose has touched generations of readers. But before Caged Bird, Angelou danced and sang on and off Broadway, earned the moniker “Miss Calypso” in the 1950s, called dozens of American cities and African nations home, and even became the first Black woman to work as a cable car conductor in San Francisco.

On this episode of Making, host Brandon Pope leads a conversation on Maya Angelou’s early days and what made her who she was. Joining him is Rita Coburn, co-director of the Peabody-Award-winning PBS documentary Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise; Randal Jelks, professor of African and African American studies and American studies at the University of Kansas; and a legend in her own right, Dr. Maxine Mimms, the founder of the Tacoma Campus of Evergreen State College and a longtime friend of Angelou.

This season of Making covers a different, iconic figure every week. Subscribe and don’t miss an episode.

Brandon Pope: A warning before we begin: This week’s episode contains a discussion about childhood sexual violence.


ANGELOU TAPE: You may write me down in history with your bitter twisted lies. You may trod me in the very dirt, but still, like dust, I’ll rise.


Brandon Pope: She’s one of the most influential voices of our time …

ANGELOU TAPE: Human beings are more alike than we are unalike.

OBAMA TAPE: It’s a voice that’s spoken to millions.

Brandon Pope: An activist and thinker …

ANGELOU TAPE: People are afraid to be pried loose from their ignorance. Because they know their ignorance so well, they know it better than their body odors.

Brandon Pope: And a prolific writer, performer and poet.

ANGELOU TAPE: When you want truth the same way you wanted that breath of air, you’ve already got it.

Brandon Pope: From WBEZ Chicago, this is Making Maya Angelou. I'm Brandon Pope. Today, Maya Angelou is one of the most famous and celebrated minds of the 20th century. Her seminal autobiography I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is one of the most celebrated American literary works of all time. Yet, she’s a woman who defies category. 

ANGELOU TAPE: It’s in the reach of my arms, the span of my hips, the stride of my step, the curl of my lips, I’m a woman, phenomenally.

Brandon Pope: Joining us is Rita Coburn, Peabody award-winning documentarian of Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise

Rita Coburn: Maya Angelou speaks to us even now.

Brandon Pope: Dr. Randal Jelks, Professor of African and African American Studies at the University of Kansas.

Randal Jelks: It's about the resiliency. She asked all of us to be resilient

Brandon Pope: And a legend in her own right, Dr. Maxine Mimms, a longtime friend of Dr. Angelou, 94-years young, and the founder of the Tacoma Campus of Evergreen State College.

Maxine Mimms: To talk about her is extremely emotional and searching for me. Right now this moment, is she's right here with us.

Brandon Pope: What shaped her life? How did Maya Angelou … become Maya Angelou? 

ANGELOU TAPE: Keep the melody in your mind and in your spirit. It will keep you tender in the tough times.

Brandon Pope: That’s today, on Making.


Brandon Pope: Maya Angelou has lived dozens of lives. 


Brandon Pope: Her first one began in 1928. Her father was Bailey Johnson a World War 1 veteran and a doorman at a swanky Los Angeles hotel. Her mother, Vivian Baxter, was from St. Louis – smart and independent. But together, Angelou called the couple “matches and gasoline.”

ANGELOU TAPE: My mother abandoned me and my brother when I was 3 and my brother was 5.

Brandon Pope: Burdened by the responsibility of parenting, her parents put Angelou and her brother on a train – alone. Notes tacked to their bodies listed their final destination: Stamps, Arkansas, where they eventually found their grandmother. 

ANGELOU TAPE: We lived with my grandmother and uncle in the rear of the store. 

Brandon Pope: Her grandmother owned a general store. Her Uncle Willy homeschooled her, teaching her multiplication tables. But the family suffered many indignities. 

ANGELOU TAPE: Whenever the Klan would ride into the Black area, all Black men would have to hide.

Brandon Pope: Angelou recalls Klansmen on horseback surrounding the store. She helped hide Uncle Willy, who was disabled, inside a produce bin.

ANGELOU TAPE: My brother and I would take potatoes and onions out of the bin. And my uncle would take his stick and laboriously get down into the bin, and my brother and I would cover him with potatoes and onions, and he would lay there all night.


Brandon Pope: Now let's zoom in on Stamps, Arkansas here, a very small place and in the 1930s also a dangerous place for Black people. No doubt. There were lynchings throughout the south at the time, and the KKK was very active. Dr. Angelou has said she only felt safe on the Black side of the railroad tracks. Dr. Mimm’s I'll start with you. Can you try to explain how moments like these might have shaped a young Maya Angelou?

Maxine Mimms: Oh, yes, I'm from Newport News, Virginia. I was born the same year as Dr. Angelou and my birthday is March 4th and her’s is April 4th. So I’m a month older than her. And during that period of time, we all knew we had a curfew. In my hometown we had a what is called a quarter to nine whistle that would blow and that meant all Black people needed to be off the street at that time. And I'm pretty sure it was in Stamps also.

Brandon Pope: And Ms. Coburn, can you tell me about these early years for Maya Angelou? What did being abandoned by her parents and, you know, specifically her mother, what did that mean to her?

Rita Coburn: I think I want to speak to the terror that Dr. Maxine Mimms, being born in that same year 1928. Maya Angelou being born in that year, the absolute terror that Black children, women and men, as with Uncle Willie, had to go through on a regular basis leaves us with a low grade traumatic stress syndrome. So before you get to a mother, like Vivian Baxter, and a father, what I think we have to realize is the way those people reacted in society was a direct result of that stress syndrome. So while her mother and her father may have abandoned her, the stress that they were under to have a child and still have a relationship in a society that was so hateful, set the tone for that. And I think that it's difficult as it was to be abandoned by Vivian Baxter. Thank God for grandmother Henderson. I believe that that abandonment hurt her deeply. It's like almost being adopted. You wonder why did anybody give me away? But you also get to the point somebody took me, and that was grandmother Henderson.

Brandon Pope: I want to remind the audience, Vivian Baxter, that was the that was Maya Angelou's mother's name. And I really I appreciate how you contextualized that. How the abandonment in a sense is really related to that terror there. Professor Jelks I'll come to you. Can you explain how this relationship with her parents is kind of reflected in her early work?

Randal Jelks: Yeah, well, first of all, I mean, she's, she's as a writer is attempting to to express an honesty about what life was like in 1930s, Arkansas. Just give to a context of the throughout the 1920s. The Klan was not just in Arkansas, or other parts of the south, but it was like a national party. So the 1920s saw the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. And it's a fact that the extended family for Black people was so important in these, this this time, and children were taken in everywhere, because the Great Depression left so many people destitute in particularly poor Black people in both cities and in the rural countryside. So, uh, Dr. Angelou has given comfort and as Ms. Coburn and Dr. Mimms have said well by the extended community and family so that that's an institution that evolved through slavery. You never know who your family was going to be and who's going to take care of you. And so, you know, we got cousins in our family who are not blood but they cousins, and they aunties and they’re uncles.

Brandon Pope: Speaking of extended family, did Dr. Angelou ever kind of delve into the importance of family to her and and how she felt about this idea of family?

Rita Coburn: Maya Angelou would always say that her birth family was very small. Because basically it was her and her brother Bailey. So her brother, her mother, her father, and there was at one point where she could count her entire family and there was 13 people. So she expanded family to what she called community, so that she could embrace other people who cared for her and whom she cared for. Because as Dr. Mimms and Professor Jelks makes the case, the historical Black community had to expand, you had to take care of who's ever children were there. If a slave master sold somebody, those kids had to be taken care of. We come from a long tradition of gathering in and making sure that no one was out of doors. We didn't have the word homeless, it was we make sure that you're not out of doors. And so she would open her home in that way. That's how Oprah got to her come and spend the night and she made family, and she made community. And she loved that way. And I think that even her abandonment, caused her to open her heart to so many people. And she opened her heart to us.

Brandon Pope: You know, something that really stands out so much about Dr. Angelou's life is that, you know, this idea of, of it takes a village. It's a story of the Black community, right, and Black resilience, and she was a big part of that.

Rita Coburn: And it's also a biblical idea. And the biblical idea which she studied the Bible, and she was studying before she passed. In 2014, she was studying to become a minister. And this is the biblical idea to that, that all things work to the good of those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose. And so even though something bad happened, and plenty bad happened, she transferred that to "it must work to my good." I'm called according to that purpose. This is going to work to my good. And I'm sure the turning of it was painful, but she would turn it and let it work to her good. And she would say, I'm going… If she was in pain walking down the hall, and you looked at her too long, she said, “Stop looking at me. I'm going from strength to strength.” Yeah, remember that doctor? Going from strength to strength?

Maxine Mimms: And you know, her main word was courage, the courage to love the courage to walk the courage to move. She does not allow the negative to take over at all. Not at all. Never. And that didn't even allow negative conversation in her gathering.

Rita Coburn: She’d tell you to be quiet. 

Maxine Mimms: She’d put you out. She’d put you out.

Rita Coburn: She would put you out. 

Maxine Mimms: She’d put you out of the house. 

Rita Coburn: Were you there when she put that person out of her house that when she made that joke?

Maxine Mimms I was there when that happened.

Rita Coburn: How did it happen Dr. Mimms?

Maxine Mimms: I don't want to talk. Listen, Rita you have permission.

Rita Coburn: First of all, somebody made a joke about something she didn't like and she said “Get your purse.” Oh, no, you get out. Because you don't bring that in my house. You don't talk about people like that in my house. 

Maxine Mimms: No negativity.

Rita Coburn: She wouldn't have it.

Maxine Mimms: None. And the thing is just not at the Thanksgiving dinner, it is in her personal relationships is even when you're just sitting, having lunch or dinner with her you just could not have anything about another person in her presence.

Brandon Pope: When she was seven years old, Angelou and her brother moved back in with her mother in St. Louis. The reunion was telling. Angelou said she knew immediately why her mother had sent her away: She danced, played jazz records, wore lipstick. She was “too beautiful to have children,” Angelou wrote later. Meanwhile, her mother’s boyfriend was obsessive, and controlling.

ANGELOU TAPE: When I was 7 and half, I was raped. I won’t say severely raped, all rape is severe.

Brandon Pope: Angelou identified the rapist to her brother, who then told the rest of the family. A few days later, her mother’s boyfriend was arrested, released from jail, and then found… beaten to death.

ANGELOU TAPE: I thought that I had caused the man’s death, because I had spoken his name. That was my 7 and a half year old logic. So I stopped talking for 5 years. Rape on the body of a young person more often than not introduces cynicism, and there’s nothing quite so tragic as a young cynic, because it means that person has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing.

Brandon Pope: Angelou and her brother moved back to Stamps. She’d later say her years of being mute saved her. She didn’t speak. Instead, she read. 

ANGELOU TAPE: I memorized Shakespeare, whole plays. I memorized Edgar Allen Poe. I had Longfellow, I had Guy de Maupassant, I had Balzac. I was able to draw from human thought, human disappointments and triumphs in order to triumph myself. When I decided to speak, I had a lot to say.

Brandon Pope: And we heard Dr. Angelou say there, that rape on the body of a young person leads to cynicism. Dr. Mimms, can you talk to us a bit about how Dr. Angelou escaped that sense of cynicism at such a young age?

Maxine Mimms: By doing what she did, she became mute. She shut up. And when the voice came back, look at what the voice did to the world.

Brandon Pope: That five years of mutism. What happened to Angelou during that five years?

Rita Coburn: She expresses that she read. So what happened was at seven years old, between seven and 12. Think about those books. She gave herself a college education, because I know people who can't pronounce Guy de Maupassant now and would not have read it. And she had whole plays, Shakespeare, Poe. She had it. So once you've memorized it, it's like reading. You get the phonetics, you get the memory. You put the words together, the sentence, the comprehension. She was able to educate herself, in a way that was beyond many people with PhDs from 7 to 12. Yes, she might have been missing some components. But what happened in those years was that she educated herself. And she educated herself to the point where she could sit with presidents and kings and queens, and toe to toe them, because she had it in that wonderful brain that just did nothing after that but expand.

Brandon Pope: And, I mean, we got to recognize that's an amazing feat, and so young to memorize Shakespeare? Like so many others, James Weldon Johnson and more and you know, taking advantage of the Black libraries and the white libraries too. And of course, the show is about the making of an iconic person. Dr. Jelks, do you think that this moment, these five years of being mute that happened, is this really kind of the period where the groundwork is happening for the Doctor Maya Angelou we see in the future?

Randal Jelks: So at 12-years-old is the age of… that in many societies you become an adult. And she's taking information in and distilling it. And in those moments of silence, obviously, she became a listener. Right? And finally, when she does speak, one of the things that I note about "I Know Why The Caged Bird," her first memoir, is that the great oral tradition that Black people possessed, it was a family virtue to speak in church, to recite the Bible on Easter Sunday, and it was at least in my family a matter of pride.

Maxine Mimms: BYP.

Randal Jelks: That's right. If you didn't do your part, right. It was, it was a whole family, family issue. So but in that moment, she also was listening. She took the word very seriously.

Brandon Pope: Now from that early trauma and that early learning, she went on to do so much after that, that we can't possibly cover all in the pot here, but I'm gonna list off some of the things here. I mean, she moved to Oakland, she became the first Black woman conductor on San Francisco's cable cars. She got pregnant at 16 with her only son, and then moved to LA, New York, Hawaii, Cleveland. She danced on stage, sang Calypso music. She was cast in a major musical had several marriages and divorces some that led her to live in Cairo and Ghana. I mean, she was really well traveled. And she did all of this before the age of 40. Now we're gonna revisit her Morocco moment in a bit. But other than that, Ms. Coburn which of these moments really stands out to you the most?

Rita Coburn: I look at her. And I think the experience of Ghana, and I think the experience of mothering, period, are huge aspects in her life, my heart goes out to any 16-year-old, that gets pregnant the first time that they have sex, and makes the decision to have the child and to become a mother, who was not mothered the way she wanted it to be. And she did not want to be her mother or father, she did not want to abandon her only son. And there's no relationship with the father. And there she is. And then she has the opportunity to dance, the opportunity to be in the Blacks the opportunity to go to Ghana. Should she not do anything, and stay and try to mother alone. It's not can I have it all? It's can I be a person that has more than one layer? Can you see me as a Black girl? Can you see me as a pregnant Black girl standing outside of the United Nations watching people go in. Can you see me become a person who could speak seven languages and one day be in there? Can I see me as more than this baby, in my belly, in my arms. And I still have all of these desires in my heart, who can I be? And I think that she becomes Maya Angelou for us because she was able to be more than one dimensional.

Brandon Pope: Absolutely. You talk about those dimensions of a person and the dimensions of her life. I want to talk about one particular story that Dr. Angelou liked to tell and I think it may illustrate some of how she became who she is. So in the 1950s, Dr. Angela was known as Miss Calypso, and it was around this time, she auditioned for a role in Porgy and Bess, and that's that groundbreaking opera that brought America's racial divide to the stage. So Angelou got the part and it took her on a 22 nation tour, and on a stop in Morocco, the company was asked to sing each song in concert. Now, Angelo's part didn't have a solo. So the conductor asked her if she knew any spirituals that she could sing. And Ms. Coburn, this story, it's so eloquently told in your documentary, So I Rise. I want to play a minute of the story from Dr. Angelo's perspective, her describing what happened next.

TAPE FROM DOCUMENTARY: We went to church all the time. And at all those meetings we sang, so I told the man Yes, I know it's spiritual. So I stood on the stage alone and sang: “I am a poor pilgrim of sorrow. I’m lost in this wide world alone.” I sang her song and when I finished 4,500 Arabs jumped up and hit the floor and started to shout. And I look to stage right at the wings, where the singers had sung. And they were looking at me like I said, I'm sorry, I mean, you saying Puccini and Bach and Beethoven and Haydn. And that same with W.E.B. Du Bois called the sorrow songs. Songs written not by free and easy people, not by leisure class, songs written from the heart, written with their blood, written with the whips and the lash on their back when I sang these songs, the people couldn't stop screaming. Then I began to think, ah I see. Now I see when the people were passing out the big packets of land and money, my people had none of that to give me. But what they gave me. Look at what they gave me my lord. Look at what they gave me. It opens doors for me all over the world. It's a great blessing.

Brandon Pope: What a storyteller she was. So we just heard Angelou speak about the power of art when it's created out of anguish and sorrow. How has this shaped her work? This pain, the sorrow of this anguish?

Rita Coburn: I think that at every juncture in her life, and we never know when junctures in our lives are going to come up. Because she rose to the occasion in the moment. If it was rape, if it was abandonment, she could own her pain. And because she owned her pain, a little girl could read about the taboo of incest or rape, and not understand it. And yet when it comes back years later, and there's a context to put it in, understand that a woman defied book bans and said, this happened to me and still I rise. And gave permission to people to say, I was sexually abused. And then I use my sex at a point to make money. And I'm still here, and I talk with kings and queens, you can do it. It doesn't matter what you ate for dinner yesterday. It's who you are today. It's who you choose to be today. And that's what she kept saying to us. And it was very empowering for Black people. And it was very empowering for women. And therefore, it was empowering for everybody. And she was talking to the part of you that you don't want to tell anybody about. The part of you, she said when she did Gather Together In My Name, the book that talked about her being involved in as a prostitute and as a madam. She said, I did it so that the people could understand that even if the rest of the society looked down at them, they could gather together my name gathered together. Let's let's tell it and I remember one, she said there were two women behind her walking as she was walking back to her bus. And one woman said to the other one, why you like Maya Angelou so much. And the other one said, because she just tell the truth about it. She didn't bend down real low, and she didn't been up real high. And she just tells the truth about it. And that's what helps to humanize her and

Randal Jelks: Yeah, you know, I just want to add a slight academic point here. My Angelou's honestly, in reflection really sets off a wave of Black women's writers of that era. You've got Alice Walker, you've got a Toni Morrison, Toni Cade Bambara, one of my own teachers, Gail Jones, all of these women can write more powerful true so I think my Dr. Angelou really opens that wave.

Brandon Pope: You mentioned you know, the friendship of James Baldwin, but also I mean, including her friends or Martin Luther King, and also Malcolm X. She helped him develop the organization of Afro American unity and Angelou she was devastated when Malcolm X and Dr. King were assassinated in the aftermath of King's death. You Baldwin and others encouraged her to focus on her writing. What she did next was published her first autobiography. That’s coming up, in just a minute.


AUDIOBOOK TAPE: When I was 3 and Bailey 4, we had arrived in the musty little town, wearing tags on our wrists which instructed—“To Whom It May Concern”—that we were Marguerite and Bailey Johnson Jr., from Long Beach, California, en route to Stamps, Arkansas...

Brandon Pope: “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” That’s the name of Maya Angelou’s first autobiography. She wrote about her childhood age 3 to age 16. She wrote about her falling mute. About her teenage pregnancy. And it affected millions of people, including a young Oprah Winfrey. 

OPRAH TAPE: For the first time, reading a story about someone who was like me, I was that girl who loved to read, I was that girl who was raised by my southern grandmother, I was that girl who was raped at 9.

Brandon Pope: The book made her famous and beloved all around the world. It also launched a literary career that would span the next four and a half decades.

ANGELOU TAPE: I want to write so that the reader in Des Moines, Iowa, in Kowloon China, in Cape Town, South Africa, in Harlem, in Boston – I want to write so that that reader can say, “You know, that’s the truth. I wasn’t there and I wasn’t a six foot tall Black girl, but that’s the truth. That’s human.

Brandon Pope: So I want to talk about Caged Bird for a little bit, seminal work from Dr. Angelou here. Dr. Mimms, I'll start with you in reflecting about this. This is 1969 we're talking about. What did it mean to have these stories particularly the story about her rape in print, and written by a Black woman at this time?

Maxine Mimms: I think you know, ‘68 was a rough time for all of us. And to go into ‘69 with these kinds of opportunities to experience the images of the language was rewarding. She gave us a gift at that time. And I think the more I sit here and think about it, she was constantly giving gifts, through her literature, through her language. She was always making us know, today is the day that you're being born again. The Caged Bird opened up doors for so many of us. I'm just thinking as I sit here, that what she did for us, she gave us a give a being in the cage, through her autobiography, through her stories, through her imagination, and then allowed us to experience the techniques of rising.

Brandon Pope: Ms. Coburn, from your perspective, I mean, a Black woman doing this work at this time. So, so personal, so evocative and shared with the world? What did that mean?

Rita Coburn: Well, 1968, as Dr. Mimms said, was a difficult time for this country. We had assassinations of our leaders, we also had a very verbal and evocative racial warfare going on. And we negate it, women. In many of those aspects, women were the last to the party for civil rights, the last to be acknowledged. There was also the racism that was happening to us along with sexism. So it's within that backdrop, not today, society, no Me Too wasn't happening. We're supposed to shut up. You definitely weren't supposed to tell people you were raped. The whole idea that you said somebody raped you and as a little child, children, and people who have physical disabilities were not even thought of in ‘68. There was nothing. To get up on the curb, you had to do the best I could. The bus would come and put you away. So we have to contextualize that during this time period, that Blacks were supposed to shut up. And they were trying to speak. That women were negated, and children weren't even thought of. She said, Look at me. I was raped. And I was raped in my own house. Now people didn't, you know, that was something happened outside. I was raped in my own house, and look at me. And she turned the spotlight on herself. And the crevices in the home and in the society and put it in a book. She wrote it down.

Maxine Mimms: She became noisy. She became noisy. Yeah, she helped us break collective silence. Yeah. And she did it in such a way that the rhythm, the noise with the rhythm, you know, kept the tempo of who we are as a nation, and as Black people.

Rita Coburn: You remember, priests and everybody, people were doing stuff. Nobody was telling. And a little Black girl from Stamps, Arkansas said, I'm gonna tell it and you're right. Dr. Mimms, she became noisy. And that's why and the book. That's why they banned it. They did. Rather you didn't read it, than to know the truth. It took 50 years about before, and the book, some places is still banned. And it took those times for us to say she was telling the truth for some people. Some of us knew it immediately. Some of us knew it personally. Some of us were embarrassed. Why would she? What happened in her family, she should have hushed, but she didn't do it. So Caged Bird became something that could be taught. And it healed people. So when Oprah says, it happened to me when I was nine, and other little people, boys, and girls could say something, somebody sees me, I'm over here. I'm trying to signal I need help. And people don't want to talk to me. All you could do was tell.

Maxine Mimms: Yeah.

Brandon Pope: People felt seen. And they felt heard.

Randal Jelks: And the reason I think they felt seen and heard, we don't give Dr. Angelou enough literary credit, right. I mean, it's, it's, she a… She's a wonderful writer. And that's hard work, she puts a lot of artwork to get you to visualize to understand, but that story is so authentic, that that narrative is so authentic, and that it catches, you know, it catches me, a 14-year-old boy, and I have no no experience of what she's going through, except that I'm a Black young man with family and understanding the dynamics of urban culture, and so forth. So it's a very powerful story. So giving, giving her her due, in her literary credit, because she's a writer. 

Maxine Mimms: The thing that you've got to understand. This is a woman that is multi-talented. This is a dancer. So the book may have been written Yes. Like we know, traditionally. She's a singer, she's all of that. And she is teaching us how to integrate all of that into ourselves. So our image of ourselves would be expanded, so that we can accept the fact that we are great. She's helped to remove us from the success, go to college, blah, blah, go to finish high school and get a job. She says no, that's not what it's about. Learn to have the courage to love. And you'll be able to expand your images and include a lot of people in your circle. That's what she's offered us and that's what it is.

Brandon Pope: And professor, you mentioned here, you know that people don't often give proper accolades. We're gonna do it, and we're gonna make sure we do it here. Dr. Angelou, she wrote seven autobiographies. You know, she lived a rich life and she passed away in 2014. And it felt like a legend really left us. Ms. Coburn, could you reflect on what the legacy of Dr. Angelou is today?

Rita Coburn: It's such a big question. Maya Angelou speaks to us even now. In what Dr. Mimms said, She created a rhythm. In her poetry, there's a dance, there's a song, there's a civil rights movement going on. In each word, she used the kinds of words that would pierce us when she says a musty little town. A musty little town. She had the economy, in the phrases that we know her from "and still I rise." Or when we say it's in the bent of my wrist, I'm a woman phenomenally. You have presidents, you have our first Black Supreme Court Justice, you have people quoting her all over the place. And she left that to us as a legacy, the power of words. That's how you get the rise. And when Professor Jelks talks about the KKK. The KKK rode in her town, they didn't even put on the sheet. They didn't mind that you knew who they were, because they felt they have the power. So if the President, if the sheriff, if the store owners were all supremacist, and you couldn't call them if something happened to you, well, who you gonna rape? Who you're gonna tell? Who was going to come for you? You are going to have to come and show up for yourself, you are going to have to rise from within. And that is what she taught us. If you're a little girl over here, a little boy over there, this happened to you or this happened to you, you better rise from within. The cavalry is not coming to save you. There is no prince, you're not going to get a golden slipper. You're going to have to get up. You're going to have to ask God to help you and go inside yourself and excavate everything that you can, and rise.

Brandon Pope: Powerful legacy there. Professor Jelks, I want you to weigh in here, if you could, on the legacy of Dr. Angelou.

Randal Jelks: Well, I mean it’s about the resiliency. She asked all of us to be resilient. You know, she was one of the few women to speak at the Million Man March. All of her life exemplified this kind of resiliency that we had, as has been eloquently stated already as a positive legacy. A hopeful legacy.

Brandon Pope: And Dr. Mimms will end here with you. You get the final word. Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about Dr. Angelou's legacy and your relationship with her?

Maxine Mimms: To sit here at this moment and see our experience, you and Rita and Randal, and to talk about her is really emotional and touching for me. This is who she is, right now this moment, is she's right here with us. Because we were able to penetrate everything, the battery down, Rita covered on the technology, and it didn't work. None of this is work. We're here. That's who it is. Maya is right here with the she said, Oh, they want to talk about me. Let me do something to help them. And here we are. The thrill. This is Maya Angelou and I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Brandon Pope: And I want to thank you, thank you so much. I mean, this has been a powerful discussion for powerful icon and we rise together, truly, This has been Making Maya Angelou. Special thanks to Ms. Rita Coburn. Professor Randall Jelks, And Dr. Maxine Mimms, thank you so much for joining us today.

Maxine Mimms: Thank you. Thank you.

Randal Jelks: Thank you so much for having us.

Rita Coburn: Thank you so much.

Brandon Pope: This episode of Making was produced by Justin Bull and Heena Srivastava. I’m your host Brandon Pope. Our executive producer is Kevin Dawson. Special thanks to the Dr. Maya Angelou Foundation and Caged Bird Legacy for help with this episode and for the use of archival audio. Thank you also to each of our guests, and be sure to check out Rita Coburn’s Peabody Award-winning documentary, Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise, on PBS. Also check out Letters to Martin: Meditations on Democracy in Black America by Randal Jelks. 

More episodes soon to come. Be sure to press the subscribe button. And we’ll see you next week.

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