Previously published on BillMoyers.com.
Over the years and on several occasions, I interviewed Maya Angelou, the legendary author who died in May. In this first of two programs celebrating her extraordinary life and legacy, I revisit an episode from his 1982 series Creativity in which Angelou and I returned to the small town of Stamps, Arkansas, where she spent much of her childhood.
Walking with me, she remembers a place where she was "terribly hurt... and vastly loved." Stamps, Arkansas, was deeply segregated, and divided by railroad tracks that split the town into black and white.
"This was more or less a no man's land here... If you were black you never felt really safe when you simply crossed the railroad tracks," she says. "... And I used to have to walk over here. Oh gosh, I hated it. I had no protection at all over there. I had an idea of protection on this side. I had my grandmother on this side. I had the church, my uncle, and all my people were on this side. So I had an idea of protection, but there I would be all alone and I loathed it, crossing those railroad tracks."
It was the great writers she read, the music she heard in church, and the scars of racial discrimination in Stamps that guided Angelou toward her passion for writing.