Black Advocates Against Sexual Violence Series
*Please consider this a trigger warning with mention of molestation and rape, in the story to follow.*
Meet Maya Angelou. This Phenomenal Woman needs no introduction, however, you may not be familiar with her childhood story.
Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson, April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri. She spent some years with her paternal grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas after her parents divorced. She was three and her brother Bailey was four.
At the age of seven, her father moved both her and her brother back to St. Louis to live with her mother. At the time, her mother worked nights as a card dealer and had a live-in boyfriend who would look after her and Bailey. This created ample opportunity for Maya to be molested and later raped by him at the age of eight. In order to keep Maya silent, he threatened to kill Bailey if she told anyone. So Maya stayed silent.
Bailey discovered her blood-stained underwear a few days later, hidden between the mattress. He confronted Maya and she told him all that happened. Bailey immediately told his mother and Maya was brought to the hospital for care. The crime was later reported after Bailey encouraged Maya to name her rapist but she did not share the previous incident of molestation, fearing rejection from her family. Because of this, her offender was only sentenced to one year and one day in jail.
After a night in jail, Maya's offender was temporarily released from jail, and was beaten to death by her uncles. This caused Maya to retreat to years of silence from the strong belief that her voice and lie was what killed her rapist. She only spoke to her brother Bailey.
During her years of silence, she absorbed the world around her and developed her love for literature and an extraordinary memory. She would later take on the life of singing, dancing, acting, civil rights activism and writing. In 1969, she wrote her auto-biography titled I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Her voice later became her power and through her work, she shed light on the shame that so often keeps survivors of childhood sexual violence quiet.
This Black History Month, Haven Box remembers Maya Angelou for her resilience and colorful life that has touched the depth of so many souls. Many survivors, especially black girls and girls of color, can see themselves in Maya's story. Her ability to bring such comfort, validation, and empowerment with her life and words is a true gift. Maya Angelou died on May 28, 2014 leaving an extraordinary legacy behind.
Sources below offer a more detailed account of Maya Angelou's life in which this information was collected.