Maya Angelou

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Maya Angelou

"I had decided that St. Louis was a foreign country. In my mind I had only stayed there for a few weeks. As quickly as I understood that I had not reached my home, I sneaked away to Robin's Hood's Forest and the caves of Alley Oop where all reality was unreal and even that changed my day. I carried the same shield that I had used in Stamps: 'I didn't come to stay.'"

In Maya Angelou's autobiographical novel, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings", tender-hearted Marguerite Johnson, renamed Maya by her refined brother Bailey, discovers all of the splendors and agonies of growing up in a prejudiced, early twentieth century America. Rotating between the slow country life of Stamps, Arkansas and the fast-pace societies in St. Louis, Missouri and San Francisco, California taught Maya several random aspects of life while showing her segregated America from coast to coast.

When Maya was three years old, her beautiful and successful mother sent her and Bailey from California to Stamps to stay in the care of their grandmother, Mrs. Annie Henderson. Soon thought of as their real mother, "Momma" raised her grandchildren with the strict Southern principles such as, "wash your feet before you go to bed; always pray to the savior and you shall be forgiven; chores and school come before play; and help those in need and you shall be helped yourself." Bearing those basic principles, Maya and Bailey grew older and wiser in Stamps, each year watching the Negro cotton-pickers come and go with the burdens and homage comparable to no white person in the county.

However, one day their father rode extravagantly into Stamps and called for his children to return home with him to St. Louis. Bailey, an adventurer eager to leave the quaint, simple family life in Arkansas, agreed immediately, but "tender-hearted" Maya was frightened by the idea of big cities and strange people. In St. Louis, where she was presented an entirely different lifestyle, Maya experienced harrowing moments that caused her yearning for the quiet safety of Stamps. Her "Mother Dear's" boyfriend, Mr. Freeman, sexually abused her twice, and when she testified in court against him, the "important connections" her mother had to the gangsters in St. Louis beat Mr. Freeman to death to disburden the shame from the family. In court, Maya lied, saying that he only touched her once, and the guilt of lying to her closest friend, her brother Bailey, cause Maya to mute herself.
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