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Poet Maya Angelou remembered at memorial service

Maya Angelou Remembered By Family, Friends At Memorial

Associated Press

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) -- First lady Michelle Obama lauded poet, orator and sage Maya Angelou as the first person who let her know she could be a strong and smart black woman, joining other famous admirers and friends in a private memorial service Saturday that was filled with tears, laughter, poetry and gospel singing.

Former President Bill Clinton said Angelou, one of the most famous black writers of the 20th century, was a woman who seemed to have lived five lifetimes in one. Others said the poet, who rose from poverty and segregation, gave strength to millions of women to live their lives in modern America.

Family, friends and admirers led by the first lady, Clinton and Oprah Winfrey paid tribute to Angelou at Wake Forest University in North Carolina where the writer had taught for more than 30 years. Angelou died May 28 at age 86 after a life with important roles in civil rights and the arts.

Obama told those gathered in a university chapel how reading Angelou's poem "Phenomenal Woman" changed a little black girl who grew up on the south side of Chicago and whose first doll was Malibu Barbie.

"She celebrated black women's beauty like no one had ever dared to before. Our curves, our stride, our strength, our grace," Obama told the audience, seated in wooden pews. "Her words were clever and sassy. They were powerful and sexual and boastful."

Tall and majestic, Angelou added heft to her spoken words with a deep and sonorous voice, describing herself as a poet in love with "the music of language." In 1993, she recited the most popular presidential inaugural poem in history, "On the Pulse of Morning," when Clinton opened his first term. She inspired many and became a mentor to Winfrey before she became a talk show host.

Clinton remembered that voice, and how Angelou chose not to speak for five years after she was raped by her mother's boyfriend as a child.

"She was without a voice for five years and then she developed the greatest voice on the planet. God loaned her His voice," Clinton said Saturday. "She had the voice of God. And he decided he wanted it back for a while."

He also said she was a role model for many.

"We could just all be up here talking about how Maya Angelou represented a big piece of American history. And triumphed over adversity. And proved how dumb racism is," Clinton added.

The service was punctuated several rousing gospel songs. There were tears, but laughter too, as Angelou's friends remembered a clever woman with a deep spiritual faith.

At the private North Carolina school, the writer was regularly addressed as Dr. Angelou out of respect for all the honorary degrees she received even though she had never graduated from college.

Winfrey spoke of Angelou as her spiritual queen mother, saying she always took notes whenever they spoke on the phone. She cried a few times as she remembered how Angelou was a vital part of her career, reminding her of the millions of people she has touched through television.

Winfrey said she struggled to put what Angelou meant into words, then realized she owed the poet not words, but actions.

"I cannot fill her shoes, but I can walk in her footsteps," Winfrey said.

Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis and raised in Stamps, Arkansas, and San Francisco. Her life included writing poetry by age 9, giving birth as a single mother by 17, and becoming San Francisco's first black streetcar conductor. She also once danced at a strip joint, shared the stage with comic Phyllis Diller and garnered career advice from singer Billie Holiday. She wrote music and plays, received an Emmy nomination for her acting in the 1970s TV miniseries "Roots" and danced with Alvin Ailey.

Her magnetism drew her into friendships with many famous figures, including Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela.

Angelou once worked as a coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and lived for years in Egypt and Ghana, where she met Mandela. In 1968, she was helping the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. organize the Poor People's March in Memphis, Tennessee, where the civil rights leader was slain on Angelou's 40th birthday.

Clinton said he first encountered Angelou through her autobiographical book "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." He grew up about 20 miles from where Angelou spent her childhood and said the author's power was amplified because he was so familiar with her surroundings.

Clinton compared Angelou to a firefly, who would light up at the most unexpected time, illuminating "something right before your nose you've been overlooking, something in your mind you've been burying. Something in your heart you were afraid to face."


Associated Press Writer Jeffrey Collins contributed to this report from Columbia, South Carolina.

Join the discussion

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BroPower June 07 2014 at 2:46 PM

She lived, she died, she was a poet..
All else is just superlatives spewed by elitist narcissistic snobs.

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20 replies
schnooz1 June 07 2014 at 12:02 PM

Oh gag. If I hear the name Oprah one more time I'm going to go.........BALLISTIC!

Flag Reply +97 rate up
42 replies
teeveequeen June 07 2014 at 12:13 PM

Oprah ... this woman was a RACIST ... even MORE than you !!!

Flag Reply +89 rate up
27 replies
Sue June 07 2014 at 12:42 PM

The name Clinton and Oprah make me want to hurl. Here we have a guy who basically cause the destruction of our economy, and DIDN'T HAVE SEX WITH THAT WOMAN, that still makes me laugh when I hear that lie. And then there's that phony OPRAH. That woman is the most racist woman in television and look who her audience consists of? And all those goodies she gave away,, PFFT they were merely write offs for those companies, yet she made it look like it came out of her own pocket!

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43 replies
rob2828b June 07 2014 at 12:43 PM

Celebrities love to kiss each others butts.

Flag Reply +63 rate up
9 replies
jetty0027 June 07 2014 at 12:09 PM

God bless her. My favorite is:
“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou.
She was truly a gifted person, and a gift to all of us.

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20 replies
Kenneth Stephen Besi June 07 2014 at 5:17 PM

She was just another failed African American "celebrity." She was a bitterly and deeply anti White and anti Jewish bigot, who could barely write a sentence.In her defense however she did waste a considerable amount of time whining and moaning about White racism as the cause and the reason for Black drug and alcohol abuse, out of wedlock Black mothers, absent Black fathers, and Blacks who would rather lie around all day doped up or drunk. Yes, she was a real inspiration for the African American grievance industry!

Flag Reply +45 rate up
20 replies
lalalexm June 07 2014 at 12:21 PM

The only reason Oprah said that is because she never met Senator Barbara Jordon of Texas, the first black woman ever to be elected to that position. But of course Oprah would have probably not like her because Senator Jordon was a conservative Democrat, a thing of the past.

Flag Reply +44 rate up
15 replies
IanthiaDarden June 07 2014 at 12:05 PM

To the family. What a legacy of life well lived. Do continue to be the best one can be because you have been blessed with "Incredibles".

Much love to the family

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2 replies
maya.stinkypoo IanthiaDarden June 07 2014 at 3:49 PM


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2 replies
Thaddeus McC maya.stinkypoo June 07 2014 at 4:25 PM

I agree. What a bunch of crap.

Flag +21 rate up
novelcre8tions maya.stinkypoo June 08 2014 at 1:44 AM

because you have chosen to waste your life and to be a downer instead of an uplifter, do NOT get on these boards with your disdain for a persons fingertip had more love and compassion for humanitt than your entire body and soul. Your human waste.. but you can change- may her life INSPIRE you to STOP the negativity and even your name maya stinkypoo shows your green with envy... go enrich mankind instead of degrading it

Flag +6 rate up
bail07014 IanthiaDarden June 07 2014 at 5:53 PM

I'm with you...why so many haters on Oprah. The piece was about Maya Angelou and remembering her , not bashing Oprah.

Flag Reply +9 rate up
3 replies
ga7smi June 07 2014 at 12:20 PM

Clinton has lost it

Flag Reply +31 rate up
7 replies
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