Maya (Johnson) Angelou
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Marguerite Ann (Johnson) Angelou (1928 - 2014)

Marguerite Ann (Maya) "Annie, Rita" Angelou formerly Johnson
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, United Statesmap
Ancestors ancestors
Sister of
[spouse(s) unknown]
Mother of [private son (1940s - unknown)]
Died at age 86 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, United Statesmap
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Profile last modified | Created 28 May 2014
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Maya (Johnson) Angelou is a part of US Black history.
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Notables Project
Maya (Johnson) Angelou is Notable.
US Black Heritage Project
Maya (Johnson) Angelou was awarded the Spingarn Medal for outstanding achievement by an African American.
Order of the Eastern Star
Maya (Johnson) Angelou was a member of the Order of the Eastern Star.

Maya Angelou, acclaimed American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist, was born Marguerite Ann Johnson on 4 April 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri, the second child of Bailey Johnson and Vivian Althea Baxter.[1][2][3][4][5] Her father worked as a doorman, navy dietitian, and taxi driver,[3][5] while Vivian was a nurse and card dealer, and easily distracted by her pursuits -- a trait which made her sometimes carry motherhood as a burden, according to Maya.[5][6]

Marguerite's older brother, Bailey Jr., nicknamed her "Maya."[5]

In 1930, Maya and her parents were living with her maternal grandparents in St. Louis, Missouri.[2][6]

Around 1932, her parents ended their tumultuous marriage and her father sent the children by train to live with his mother, Annie Henderson, in Stamps, Arkansas.[5] Annie, or Momma, as her grandchildren called her[7], unlike so many other African-Americans living during this time period, had prospered financially because her general store sold basic items people needed, and because she made "honest, wise investments."[4]

Four years later, Maya's father showed up again without warning.[4] He and the two children were living in his brother's home, along with his mother Annie, in 1940.[3][6] He soon after sent the children back to the care of Vivian in St. Louis.[6]

At the age of 8, while still living with her mother, Maya was abused and raped by Vivian's boyfriend, a man named Freeman.[4][5][6] Maya told her brother, who then told the rest of her family. Freeman was tried and found guilty but was jailed for only one day. Four days after his release, he was kicked to death, probably by relatives of Maya's.[4]

Maya and her brother were sent back to live with their Grandmother Annie.[6] Maya blamed herself for Freeman's death, thinking that because she spoke his name, he'd died, and so for five years she did not speak.[6][8]

It was during this period of silence that Maya developed her remarkable memory, her love of books and her ability to listen and observe.[4] She eventually started to speak again with the help of her grandmother's friend, Mrs. Bertha Flowers.[1]

At 13, Maya moved once again, this time to California to live with her mother in San Francisco.[5][6] During this time she went by the name Rita Johnson.[7]

At 17, she gave birth to her only child, a son, Clyde, better known as Guy Johnson.[5]

Maya worked a variety of jobs in her life including fry cook, sex worker, night club dancer, singer/songwriter, cast member of a stage production of Porgy and Bess, journalist, and first female streetcar conductor, which all contributed to her better known occupations of author, poet, speaker, professor, and actress.[5][6]

She was active in the Civil Rights movement, alongside Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X.[5][6]

Maya was married twice, first to Thomas J "Tosh" Angelos from 1951[9] to 1954,[4] and then to Paul de Feu from 1974[10] to 1983.[4] Maya took the name Angelou during her marriage to Tosh, having fashioned it after his surname.[1] She had other lengthy relationships, but no other confirmed marriages.

During the course of her life, Maya published seven autobiographies, several books of poetry, three books of essays, as well as writing, producing, directing, and acting in plays, television, and movies.[4]

She made a point to learn the language of every country she visited.[4]

Maya was well-known for her skills in the kitchen, as well, and an invitation to her home for a meal was a treasured one.[1][7][11]

She received numerous awards and was also the recipient of over 30 honorary doctoral degrees.[4][5] One of her greatest honors was receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded to her by U.S. President Barack Obama in 2011.[4]

After a period of bad health, Maya was found dead by her caregiver on 28 May 2014. [1] [5]

She was memorialized with several services, and her book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, rose to number 1 on the New York Times Bestsellers List. [1]

Maya Angelou was cremated and her ashes were scattered.[12]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Hewlett, Michael, Maya Angelou, famed poet, writer, activist, dead at 86, Winston-Salem Journal, 28 May 2014. Accessed 30 Mar 2017.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "United States Census, 1930," database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 30 March 2017), Marguerite Johnson in household of Thomas Baxter, St Louis (Districts 1-250), St Louis (Independent City), Missouri, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 47, sheet 12B, line 91, family 280, NARA microfilm publication T626 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2002), roll 1237; FHL microfilm 2,340,972.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "United States Census, 1940," database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 10 January 2018), Margerett Johnson in household of Willis Johnson, Stamps, Baker Township, Lafayette, Arkansas, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 37-2, sheet 11B, line 50, family 246, Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940, NARA digital publication T627. Records of the Bureau of the Census, 1790 - 2007, RG 29. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2012, roll 147.
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 Wikipedia contributors, "Maya Angelou," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed March 30, 2017).
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 5.11 Ferrer, Anne, "Angelou's optimism overcame hardships", The StarPhoenix, 29 May 2014. Accessed via Internet Archive 30 March 2017
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 6.8 6.9 McWhorter, John, "Saint Maya: Angelou's flawed books helped relieve black writers of the burden of representing their race", New Republic, 28 May 2014. Accessed 30 March 2017.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Pierce, Donna, "Welcome to her world: Maya Angelou blends recipes and memories in winning style", Chicago Tribune, 5 Jan 2005. Accessed 30 Mar 2017.
  8. Younge, Gary, "Maya Angelou: I'm fine as wine in summertime", The Guardian, 13 Nov 2009, accessed 30 March 2017
  9. "California, San Francisco County Records, 1824-1997," database with images, FamilySearch ( : 22 July 2021), Thomas J Angelos and Marguerite A Johnson, 03 Jul 1951; citing Marriage, San Francisco, San Francisco, California, United States, San Francisco Public Library, California; FamilySearch digital folder 004270335.
  10. "California Marriage Index, 1960-1985," database, FamilySearch ( : 27 November 2014), Paul B Dufeu and Maya Johnson, 18 Jan 1974; from "California, Marriage Index, 1960-1985," database and images, Ancestry ( : 2007); citing Los Angeles, California, Center of Health Statistics, California Department of Health Services, Sacramento
  11. Yee, Vivian, "Maya Angelou Often Left New York, but She Always Came Back", The New York Times, 29 May 2014. Accessed 30 Mar 2017.
  12. Find A Grave Memorial #130492881

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We are featuring this profile in the Connection Finder this week. Between now and Wednesday is a good time to take a look at the sources and biography to see if there are updates and improvements that need made, especially those that will bring it up to WikiTree Style Guide standards. We know it's short notice, so don't fret too much. Just do what you can.



posted by Abby (Brown) Glann
This profile is Magnificent! Absolutely a beautiful tribute!
posted by Arora (G) Anonymous
While attending University in South Carolina, I was a part of a small master class afternoon with this wonderful Woman. One afternoon in my life that I will never forget - listening to her voice. Her phrasing and a rhythm making hours seem only a moment in time.


posted by Mags Gaulden
This is fabulous!!!
posted by Paula J

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