Maya Angelou's visits to central San Joaquin Valley

The Fresno BeeMay 28, 2014 

Poet and author Maya Angelou died in her North Carolina home on Wednesday. She crisscrossed the country for speaking engagements, including at least six in the central San Joaquin Valley. Here are highlights of those visits:

May 2004, Fresno City College at part of a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's pivotal Brown v. Board of Education decision against segregation in public schools.

Angelou said the court decision opened doors for African-Americans and others. And she said that community colleges are among her favorite places to speak and educate younger people. She urged students to smile at others and to bridge differences and misunderstandings. And she urged them to read: "I was able to find an education, not because of my town, county, state or country but because of my involvement with lights, books. ... I lived in the library."

February 1996, in Visalia at Second Baptist Church's Black History Celebration Banquet at the city's Holiday Inn. It drew an overflow crowd of more than 1,000 people.

She urged people to provide a solid foundation for children and set high personal standards: "Some expect us to look at MTV or magazines to tell us who we are and should be, but that is dangerous. We need to look for somebody who really cares these 'he-roes' and 'she-roes' would be found within our own families."

March 1982, at Fresno State as the centerpiece of a show titled, "Focus: Woman."

The Valley public television station showed a special encore presentation later in the month. Co-producer Marianna Haun said, "Because she made such an impression on her audience, which spilled out into the halls and surrounded her on stage, we just kept the camera rolling to get as much unadulterated Maya as we could."

February 1982, at the kickoff for the student Pan Afrikan Union's Afrikan People's History Month at Fresno State.

Her topic was love, saying it kept blacks alive since they came to America in 1619. Love for their families enabled blacks to endure suffering and humiliation, often wearing a mask, laughing to hide the pain and shame. "That is love. Deep, brooding, abiding love that is part of your inheritance. Somebody cared an awful lot to demean himself or herself so you could stay alive."

October 1972, season-opener of the San Joaquin Valley Town Hall Lecture Series at the Fresno Convention Center.

She spoke on black Americans' contributions to life in the U.S.: "I suggest that without the black Americans' struggle for freedom, rights and justice, this country would be fashioned into something more hellish than it is today. But I'm thrilled when I think of what the United States could be."

February 1972, for a speech sponsored by the Fresno State College Union's Forum Arts Committee.

Source: Fresno Bee archives

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