Maya Angelou And Her Moral Courage

As described by prominent author and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou “having courage does not mean an individual is unafraid”, having courage means they “face their fears”. Born in St. Louis, Missouri on April 4th 1928, she was given the name, Marguerite Annie Johnson and was raised by her grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. She devoted her life to fighting for equal rights for all and through her racism opposing acts, African Americans were impelled towards a more prosperous and equal future.

To begin, many events sparked Angelou’s interest and involvement in human rights. For instance, after facing the traumatic experience of being raped, Angelou grew silent and used literature to cope with the situation as a young girl. Shortly after the incident occurred, the perpetrator was savagely murdered by Angelou’s family. As a result, she felt guilty for his death and developed selective mutism, becoming silent for over 5 years. During this time, Angelou’s love for writing flourished and she used her skills to create her own works of literature; later serving as an inspiration to many and empower them to expose their own brutal clashes with society. Additionally, Maya Angelou again found her love of advocating for equal rights through Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His words and peaceful message, “inspired” Angelou to “become apart the struggle for civil rights” (Poetry Foundation). She felt motivated to join the movement after seeing everyone come together to share their difficult past about the rejection they have faced because of their race. Through a deep connection she felt with the message, she believed she had to help people break the violent and malicious standards placed upon them by society. Therefore, Angelou’s primary motivations for advocating for African American rights demonstrate courage as she overcame her own trauma and sorrow to help others.

Furthermore, after continuously witnessing African Americans be treated unfairly, Maya Angelou felt the need to stop these injustices through peaceful means. In particular, shortly after her friend, Martin Luther King Jr’s death, she wrote her first autobiography, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings- one of the “first books to honestly depict” the life of a black woman (Mental Floss). In that time period, African Americans’ lifestyles were concealed away and overshadowed by their Caucasian counterparts. Blacks were outcasted as uneducated critters and were never allowed to express themselves without facing ridicule; their ideas and problems shunned. Angelou’s book, however changed this narrative as she openly wrote about the racism and misery she endured. In addition to literature, Maya Angelou also worked with the Civil Rights Movement to help fight for a progressively equal and promising life for both African Americans and future generations to come. She would work with people, such as Dr. King and Malcom X, and aided them in organizing the “Cabaret for Freedom” venue, “the organization of African American Unity”, and even marches (MSNBC). Angelou supported, fundraised, and represented the Civil Rights Movement. Through events, such the Cabaret for Freedom, a musical revue, she helped raise money for the establishment. To add on, before he was slain, Angelou also helped Malcom X form his organization of African American Unity, an alliance which helped unify the non-Muslim African Americans with the people of Africa, reconnecting them with their roots and heritage. All in all, Maya Angelou’s work in literature and the Civil Rights Movement exhibited courage as they addressed the racial segregation within the United States and saught to mend the conflict, despite the opposition and controversy the acts recieved.

Maya Angelou’s various measures towards civil rights vastly improved the quality of life for African Americans and encouraged them to speak up about their lives. In fact, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings was one of the first books in history to publicly detail a black individual’s personal life and even resulted in a new “wave of black feminist writings” (The New Yorker). As a result of Angelou’s tale, people now realize they are not alone and have someone to connect their own traumas and pain to. The story has become a pioneer in black writing and embodies each African American’s own struggles and how they seek to overcome them, bettering themselves in the process. Moreover, Angelou’s efforts in Civil Rights has also garnered her staggering amounts of applause and taught people that “confidence and being comfortable in [one’s] own skin” can achieve anything (Respectability). She serves as a reminder to African Americans that anything is possible and to continue striving for the better. Her work with Civil Rights in particular, has shown others the power of speaking up and given them a voice to fight for themselves. Thus, Angelou’s work remains relevant in numerous generations, inspiring others to express themselves and fight for their rights.

Ultimately, the activities Maya Angelou did, revealed the daily struggles African Americans tolerated and prompted them towards a better future. Her stories, speeches, organizations, and fundraisers demonstrated her dedication to helping others and the endless courage she had, overcoming many obstacles till she become a recognized spokesperson for African American rights. In conclusion, the only way to combat the injustices in society is having the courage to stick up for one’s beliefs, despite the adverse consequences.

Works Cited

  • Als, Hilton. “Songbird.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 3 Apr. 2019,
  • Angelou, Maya. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. Bantam Books: New York, 1969
  • Appelbaum, Lauren. “Maya Angelou, Legendary Poet and Civil Rights Activist Who Had Disability, Inspires Generations.” Respect Ability, 29 Mar. 2019,
  • “Maya Angelou Quotes About Courage: A-Z Quotes.”Az Quotes,
  • “11 Facts About I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” Mental Floss, 8 Feb. 2017,
  • “Maya Angelou.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation,
  • Serwer, Adam. “Maya Angelou, Radical Activist.” MSNBC, NBCUniversal News Group, 9 June 2015,  
16 December 2021
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