“The black mother perceives destruction at every door, ruination at each window, and even she herself is not beyond her own suspicion. She questions whether she loves her children enough- or more terribly, does she love them too much? Do her looks cause embarrassment- or even terrifying, is she so attractive her sons begin to desire her and her daughters begin to hate her. If she is unmarried, the challenges are increased. Her singleness indicates she has rejected or has been rejected by her mate. Yet she is raising children who will become mates. Beyond her door, all authority is in the hands of people who do not look or think or act like her children. Teachers, doctors, sales, clerks, policemen, welfare workers who are white and exert control over her family’s moods, conditions and personality, yet within the home, she must display a right to rule which at any moment, by a knock at the door, or a ring in the telephone, can be exposed as false. In the face of this contradictions she must provide a blanket of stability, which warms but does not suffocate, and she must tell her children the truth about the power of white power without suggesting that it cannot be challenged.”
This is how Maya Angelou’s journey was like in her book, The Heart of a Woman. Writing was her A game that was supplemented by singing in clubs to make ends meet. She started with short sketches to song lyrics that most comprised of liberty songs and then to short stories. Having been married to a Greek man whose marriage went south, she had lived in five areas of San Francisco with her fourteen year old son who was born in her adventurous teen world and always dragged him whenever she moved. She was looking for that haven in heaven where black skin was not regarded as one of nature’s more unsightly mistake. Her mother Vivian supported her move to New York when John, Maya’s friend, critiqued her to join Harlem Writers Guild.
The Killens (John’s family) welcomed her and son to their home and days later she had her apartment in the neighborhood. The Harlem Writers Guild also applauded her to the group after she read one of her works One Love. One Life. For two months she worked miserably in the Lower East Side club singing and it is after resigning that the Apollo Theater came calling. Here she used her song Uhuru (freedom) as her encore and many thronged to this theater as she enchanted them with African songs. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had just been released from prison and as he addressed a mob who had come to listen to his historic journey, she met Godfrey and together they mobilized dancers, actors, singers to raise money and help Luther King in his Southern Leadership Conference where he would make Northerners aware of the fight being waged in Southern states. Approaching the SCLC offices was the hardest part but they later came through and Cabaret for Freedom was born.
Guy, her son on the other end was making it in life and he was growing into a man with a high notch for political matters. Together with the Killen’s children, they attended freedom conferences and protests that opposed capitalism. Gate of Horn in Chicago made Maya a request to be a singer. She took the offer but it was while she was there that back in NY her son faced a confrontation with a white rowdy group called the Savages forcing Maya to return home. Upon return, she faced the leader of the gang at his home armed handy with a gun and threatened to kill his entire family if he came any closer to her son. The savages were never heard of again.
She was love-struck by Thomas who on many occasions never exchanged talks with her on her nature of work. Bored was the syndrome taking over the relationship although they were engaged to be married, a South African freedom fighter Vusumzi Make, Vus for short crossed her path. He was a member of the PAC (remember PAC in the review of Nelson’s Mandela autobiography?). He chased her and after playing hard to get she gave in and they were secretly married. With no work, living in expensive neighborhoods with the latest decors, life was sailing smoothly for her. She mingled with the mighty and dined with their wives where they formed the Cultural Association Meeting for Women of African Heritage to support all black civil rights groups. They attended conferences which hosted the likes of Malcom X, Sojourner Truth who left the crowds agape with the sentiments they echoed.
Fights, travels across nations, threats from South Africa, cheating Vus became the norm of each passing day and it is after an eviction notice due to unpaid rent that they left NY for Egypt. Guy was already fond of Vus and the bond grew day in, day out. The same high class life was adapted in Egypt and Vus like any other African man, decided to take his cultural behaviors to higher heights. Polygamy was one, not allowing Maya to work was another but after feeling like a Brer rabbit in the briar pitch she decided enough was enough. She secretly contacted a friend who connected her to the Arab Observer where she was hired as an associate editor. Vus never agreed to it but to avoid political controversies in his career, he gladly accepted her to work. Love between them was drying up and after deciding to leave him, a surprise birthday party for Maya organized by their friends led to a six months stay ruling to work it out.
It didn’t work out and after few months they decided to let go. Maya left for Ghana to enroll her son at Ghana University and she was now as asset in Liberia where she would head to next. Fate denied her the Liberia opportunity after her son was hit by a passing vehicle. With a broken neck, leg, arm and internal injuries Guy recovered slowly. Denial of her son’s entry to the university as he lacked the junior college qualification was later approved as a way to accept black Americans into the African society. More so, his brilliant mind in tackling political questions earned him a double bonus. Maya was hired in the university as an administration assistant.
That is how it unfolds and allow me to add some marvelous words uttered out by characters in their quest for freedom.
“We, the black people, the most displaced, the poorest, the most maligned and scourged, we had the glorious task of reclaiming the soul and saving the honor of the country. We, the most hated, must take hate into our hands and by the miracle of love, turn loathing into love. We, the most feared and apprehensive must take fear and by love, change it into hope. We, who die daily in large and small ways, must take the demon death and turn it into life,” Martin Luther King Jr.
“Every person under the sound of my voice is a soldier. You are either fighting for your freedom or betraying the fight for freedom or enlisted in the army to deny somebody else freedom,” Malcom X.
“Yoked like an ox, I have ploughed your land. And ain’t I a woman? With axes and hatchets, I have cut your forests and ain’t I a woman? I gave birth to 13 children and you have sold them away from me to be the property of strangers and to labor in strange land. Ain’t I a woman? I have suckled your babes at this breasts and ain’t I a woman?” Sojourner Truth.
“Never allow yourself to be cut off from the people. Predators use the separation tactic with great success. If you’re going to do something radical go to the masses. Let them know who you are. That is your only hope of protection,” Vus.
“Animals can sense fear. They feel it. Human beings are animals too. Never let a person know you’re frightened. And a group of them…absolutely never. Fear brings about the worst thing in everybody..,” Vivian, Maya’s mother.
PS: Have you noticed lately my eyes come across books where racism was at its peak? I have noted that too and this is my last review this year of any related discrimination concept. My next queue of books contain hard copy books that I ransacked in someone’s house and it is a breather to avoid soft copy books for now for the love of my eyes. However, there is something with soft copy because all I need is to highlight what intrigues me, share it and still have it with me forever. Now to hard copy, you have to share it, never get it back unless you remember and unless a pen and paper comes in handy for note taking, my eyes can as well adjust to glasses….(sigh).