Maya Angelou's Deep Ties to the District

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Acclaimed American poet and author Maya Angelou, who survived the harshest of childhoods to become a force on stage, screen and the printed page, has died. She was 86. (Published Wednesday, May 28, 2014)

    For decades, acclaimed American poet and author Maya Angelou's words have been felt and heard at some of the most notable events in the nation's capital.

    Angelou died Wednesday at the age of 86, but her ties and advocacy for issues in the D.C. run deep. From the naming of one of the district's charter schools to the etchings in the Martin Luther King Jr. monument, the evidence of Angelou's influence can be seen across D.C.

    In 1993, she read her cautiously hopeful "On the Pulse of the Morning'' at former President Bill Clinton's first inauguration. Her confident performance delighted Clinton and made the poem a best-seller, if not a critical favorite. For former President George W. Bush, she read another poem, "Amazing Peace,'' at the 2005 Christmas tree lighting ceremony at the White House.

    She remained close enough to the Clintons that in 2008 she supported Hillary Rodham Clinton's candidacy over the ultimately successful run of the country's first black president, Barack Obama. But a few days before Obama's inauguration, she was clearly overjoyed. She told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette she would be watching it on television "somewhere between crying and praying and being grateful and laughing when I see faces I know.''

    Angelou's influence and reach can also be seen etched in stone at the memorial for her friend, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

    Angelou protested the inclusion of a paraphrased quotation on King's memorial.

    When it was erected, a portion of the memorial read, “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.”

    The full quotation was taken from a 1968 sermon about two months before King was assassinated. It reads:

    Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.

    Angelou said the shortened version made the civil rights leader sound like an "arrogant twit." Work to remove the quote from the memorial was completed just before the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

    In 2011, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama, CNN reported, and the next year, first lady Michelle Obama called Angelou one of her "she-roes" as she awarded her with the Literary Arts award at the BET Honors in D.C.

    A charter school housing a middle school, an alternative high school, a school for incarcerated young men, and a school for young adults also bears her name.

    Formerly the See Forever Foundation, the Maya Angelou Public Charter Schools were named after the poet in 1997 after a student entering the school's naming contest wrote that the school deserved a name that represented "the power and the importance of education," according to the school's website.

    During her illustrious career, Angelou received a number of honorary degrees from the nation's colleges and universities, including one from Howard University in 1985, where she was a frequent guest.

    Angelou canceled several appearances in recent weeks. Back in April, she was scheduled to speak at William & Mary. And this week, she canceled plans to attend the Major League Baseball Beacon Awards Luncheon, citing a medical emergency.

    The same day she tweeted, "Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God."

     The Associated Press contributed to this report.