29 May 2014

Civil rights activist Maya Angelou dies

5:54 am on 29 May 2014

American writer, civil rights activist and academic, Maya Angelou, has died at the age of 86 at her home in North Carolina.

Maya Angelou at the Norman Mailer Center in New York.

Maya Angelou at the Norman Mailer Center in New York. Photo: Getty Images / AFP (file)

The first volume of her autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings in 1969, told of her coming-of-age in an era defined by racial segregation.

She wrote frankly of being raped and of not speaking for six years when the rapist was killed after she named him. The book became a bestseller.

Born in St Louis, Missouri, in April 1928, she became one of America's foremost orators and was an advisor to several presidents. Although she never gained a tertiary education, Angelou was granted more than 30 honorary degrees.

She moved to San Francisco during World War II to study dance and acting, and was the city's first black female cable car conductor.

In the early 1950s she briefly married a Greek sailor named Angelopulos and tweaked his surname to come up with her own professional name.

At the same time she became increasingly involved in the civil rights movement. In the 1960s she travelled abroad, particularly in Egypt and Ghana.

She was invited by President Bill Clinton her to recite one of her most famous poems, On the Pulse of the Morning, at his inauguration in January 1993.