A chronology of the life of Maya Angelou (1928-2014)
This timeline outlines key moments in the life of poet, singer, and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou as well as her famous quotes, extracted from her autobiographies and journals.
1928: Maya Angelou is born on April 4 to parents Bailey Johnson and Vivian Johnson. Her real name was in fact Marguerite Annie Johnson.
Her father was a doorman while her mother was a nurse.
1931: Maya and her older brother, Bailey Jr, travel all by themselves by train to their grandmother’s (Annie Henderson) in Stamps, Arkansas.
1935: Maya and her brother move back to their mother in St. Louis.
1936: Maya goes through one of the most brutal moment in her childhood (perhaps her entire life). 8-year-old Maya was sexually abused by Freeman, her mother’s very troubled boyfriend.
1937: Mrs. Bertha Flowers offers emotional support to Maya Angelou. Flowers also introduce Angelou to books and poems.
1942: Maya Angelou relocates to her mother who was at Oakland, California.
1942: Enrolls at California Labor School
1944: Becomes a cable car conductor in San Francisco.
1945: Still a teenager, Maya Angelou gives birth to her first and only child, Clyde (later called Guy Johnson).
1951: Angelou and Tosh Angelos (a Greek sailor and amateur musician) tie the knot. Owing to domestic issues, Angelos and Maya go their separate ways after just three years of marriage.
1954: To support her kid, Maya Angelou takes up a dancing and singing job in a San Francisco nightclub called The Purple Onion.
1954 –1955: Maya Angelou goes on a calypso dance tour across Europe.
1957: Makes an off-Broadway debut in the film Calypso Heat Wave.
1959: After meeting writer John Oliver Killens, Maya Angelou is convinced to go to New York to pursue a writing career in full. While in New York, she meets a number of upcoming writers and novelists such as Julian Mayfield, Rosa Guy and Paule Marshall.
1960: Maya Angelou interacts with famed civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. She is tasked to coordinate the activities of the Northern Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).
1961: Gets a role in Jean Genet’s play The Blacks. The play stars performers such as Abbey Lincoln, Louis Gossett, Cicely Tyson and James Earl Jones.
1961: She and anti-apartheid activist Vusumzi Make move to Cairo Egypt. Angelou takes up a job as an editor in The Arab Observer.
1962 – 1965: Angelou and Guy move to the West African country of Ghana. The couple settles in Accra, Ghana. While in Ghana, she works as an administrator at the University of Ghana. She also served as freelance writer for the Ghanaian Times and Radio Ghana.
Maya also featured in a number of plays at the National Theater of Ghana. Her stay in Ghana afforded her the opportunity to meet up with Malcolm X as the latter visited.
1965: Returns to the U.S. and works with Malcolm X to set up the Organization of Afro-American Unity
1967: Returns to New York to continue her writing career.
1968: Maya Angelou and the entire nation mourns the assassination of MLK, who died on April 4 – Maya Angelou’s 40th birthday.
1968: Maya Angelou channels her pain (owing to the death of MLK) into writing and producing the critically successful documentary called Blacks, Blues, Black!
1968: Pens down one of her most famous works: I know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The autobiography was published a year later, raising Maya Angelou into the limelight like never seen before.
1972: Maya Angelou’s Georgia, Georgia comes out. The film was produced in Sweden.
1973: Angelou ties the knot with Paul du Feu – a craftsman from Wales. It is her second marriage.
1973: Her performance in Look Away earns her a nomination for a Tony Award in 1973
1974: Publishes her second autobiography – Gather Together in My name
1976: She releases her third autobiography – Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas
1977: She is cast in a supporting role in the hit mini-series Roots.
1981: Angelou and her husband du Feu divorce.
1981: Angelou’s fourth autobiography, The Heart of a Woman, is released.
1981: Maya gets an appointment as the lifetime Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem.
1986: Her fifth autobiography, All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes, comes out.
1988: Directs a play titled Moon on a Rainbow Shawl in London.
1993: At the inauguration ceremony of Bill Clinton, Maya Angelou recites her famous poem “On the Pulse of Morning”.
1996: Directs a film titled “Down in the Delta”. The film starred Hollywood actor Wesley Snipes.
1996: Joins forces with Ashford & Simpson on a number of their tracks from the album Been Found.
2002: She completes her sixth autobiography titled A Song Flung Up to Heaven.
2008: Backs Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Party ticket. She will eventually support Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential election.
2010: The Schomburg Center of Research in Black Culture takes receipt of Maya Angelou’s donation of private papers and other personal items.
2011: The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington D.C. appoints her as consultant.
2011: She receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom from then U.S.-President Barack Obama.
2013: She completes her seventh and final autobiography – Mom & Me & Mom.
2014: Maya Angelou passes away on May 28 at the age of 86.