Previously published on BillMoyers.com.
In this second of two programs celebrating the life and work of the late Maya Angelou, I revisit a 1988 documentary in which Angelou and I attended a conference on "Facing Evil," held in the Hill Country of central Texas. Evil was a topic about which Angelou, the victim of childhood rape and virulent racism, had a lot to say.
Rape caused her to retreat into silence for five years, she said, and was:
"a dire kind of evil, because rape on the body of a young person more often than not introduces cynicism, and there is nothing quite so tragic as a young cynic, because it means the person has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing. In my case I was saved in that muteness, you see, in the sórdida, I was saved. And I was able to draw from human thought, human disappointments and triumphs, enough to triumph myself."
She recites the lyrics of a song she wrote for Roberta Flack about Angelou's crippled Uncle Willie, who made sure she and others knew their lessons and "left for our generation and generations to come a legacy so rich. " She reads from the poetry of African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar as well her own: "There in those pleated faces/I see the auction block/The chains and slavery's coffles/The whip and lash and stock./My fathers speak in voices/That shred my fact and sound/They say, but, sugar, it was our submission/that made your world go round."
She tells the conference:
"We need the courage to create ourselves daily, to be bodacious enough to create ourselves daily -- as Christians, as Jews, as Muslims, as thinking, caring, laughing, loving human beings," she says. I think that the courage to confront evil and turn it by dint of will into something applicable to the development of our evolution, individually and collectively, is exciting, honorable."