Marguerite Johnson was born in the late 1920s in Arkansas. A poor black female in the segregated South, Johnson didn’t exactly have a bright future to look forward to. She endured the hardships that virtually all African Americans endured during and beyond segregation—second-class citizen status, economic and social exclusion, living in near-constant fear of physical threats and terror, and so forth.
As if that weren’t enough, the particular events of Johnson’s life wouldn’t make it any easier for her either.
At age seven, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. She told only her brother about it. A few days later, her attacker was found dead.
She was so traumatized by these events that she didn’t speak a word out loud for another five-and-a-half years. An outcast, both from the outside and from within herself, Johnson was seemingly bound to a hard, lonely life of struggle and isolation.
Marguerite Johnson, however, would later change her name to Maya Angelou and become a dancer, an actress, a screenwriter, a poet, a prominent leader in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and the first black female to write a best-selling nonfiction book, her memoir, I Know Why the Caged …
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