• Ryanne Harper

But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Today is Maya Angelou's ninetieth birthday as well as the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of Dr. King.

Maya Angelou was a poet, memoirist, and activists. She wrote and spoke candidly about her childhood. A childhood that included sexual assault at the age of eight. The man was tried and convicted, served his ONE DAY sentence, and was released. The man was later murdered. Maya, who assumed her uncles had done it, vowed to stop speaking because she felt responsible for the man's death. She kept her vow for five years. During this time, she developed her love of books and writing. In a way, her lack of voice gave her a voice of a different kind. A voice that is taught in high schools and Universities across the country.

While Dr. King may not have officially been a poet, I think it's fair to say his speeches were pretty poetic. His last speech, delivered in Memphis the day before he was murdered, spoke of the importance of free speech and the right to protest. A speech that is just as relevant today as it was fifty years ago.

Maya Angelou and Dr. King had a lot in common. Both of them used words to spread a message of love rather than hate, of overcoming obstacles, of doing what is right when it would be so much easier to remain apathetic and do nothing at all. The two met in 1960 and became fast friends and colleagues.

After Dr. King's assassination, Maya Angelou remained close friends with Coretta Scott King until the latter passed in 2006.

I never got the opportunity to hear Maya Angelou read her work in person. She was scheduled to do a reading at the University of Arkansas, but fell ill and had to cancel. She passed away less than a month later on May 28, 2014.

I have been to the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was shot. It was a sobering, humbling experience. An experience that has stuck with me; I can only assume it will stick with me forever.

For more information about the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, click here.


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