Dr. Maya Angelou, one of the nation’s greatest national treasures appeared on the Tom Joyner Morning Show this morning to discuss her new book “Mom, Me and Mom.” It’s yet another of the sweeping series of autobiographical books that Angelou has released over the years, including her classic “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.”
Here in her own words, is the story behind her latest memoir:
My mother and my father sent me and my brother away when I was 3 and my brother was 5. They sent us by train from Los Angeles, CA to Stamps, Arkansas, which is about as big as your studio, without any adult supervision. We had tags on our arms and thanks to the goodness of the Pullman car porters and the dining car waiters, we were taken off certain trains and put on certain trains and we actually arrived in Stamps, Arkansas. It’s so hard to believe that sometimes we wonder did we even get there. We were taken to live with my grandmother, my father’s mother, and we stayed there for seven years.
At one point we were taken up to St. Louis to my mother. She had come back to be with her family and my mother’s boyfriend raped me. The man was put in jail overnight, and the police, two big white policemen, came to my mother’s mother’s house and they said the man had been found dead and it seemed he’d been kicked to death. I was 7 years old and I thought my voice had killed him. M brother said I had to tell him. I said ‘He said he would kill you,’ and my brother was nine and he said ‘I won’t let him.’ So of course I believed him and I told him and the man was put in jail. He was released and then killed. So somehow I figured that my voice could go out through a keyhole, through the window and through the door and kill people randomly.
I knew I couldn’t kill my brother because he loved me so much and I loved him so much that any curse wouldn’t work between us. So I spoke to him and he was the only person I spoke to for six years. I stayed with my mother’s people and they did their best to woo me away from my mutism but they didn’t know what I knew – what my voice could do. After a few months in St. Louis, Bailey and I, my brother and I, were sent back to Stamps, Arkansas, to Mama. You’d have to see Mama to see what a cozy and safe place she presented. When she died, Tom, she was over 6 foot and she spoke very softly. She had a huge voice in church. She would start to sing and people would fall out. They’d pick up their purses and throw them at the preacher. Mama could sing, but at home she spoke very softly.
She was a devout Christian. She didn’t allow hot dogs. She didn’t allow us to say “Hot dog!” That meant “damn.” We couldn’t say “By the way” because she said Jesus is the way, the truth and the light and when you say “By the way” you say by Jesus and you won’t use that language in this house. And yet she was so loving and you know, let me tell you, for instance. I didn’t speak and you know, but in the South, well, you don’t know, but when I was growing up, children were supposed to speak when they’re spoken to and come when they’re called. I didn’t speak and Mama didn’t force me to speak. She said ‘I don’t care what these people say about you must be a moron, you must be an idiot cause you can’t talk. Mama don’t care. Mama know when you and the Good Lord get ready, you gon’ be a teacher. You’re gonna teach all over this world.’
I tried to write this book 15 years ago but it wasn’t ready. I don’t say I wasn’t ready but the book wasn’t ready. I know so much more now than I did 15 years ago. I know this – that parents need, desperately, to be on the side of the child. The child needs to know my daddy backs me up, my mother backs me up in public. Now you can go home and chastise, but let the child know that you got a friend. The most powerful person in the world is your parent. And my parent is my friend, my parent thinks I’m the bee’s knees. Now if I do something wrong, my parent is going to chastise me, but he doesn’t hate me. And sometimes in today’s families, you see children in public with their parents and their parents talk to them like they hate them. I’m encouraging because I went through so much, I’m encouraging parents to look at this book and see that because of the love of my grandmother, my brother, and my mother, I became whatever is called Maya Angelou.