Maya Angelou, more formally known as Marguerite Ann Johnson was born on April 4th, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri. She was the child of Bailey Johnson and Vivian Baxter Johnson. When Maya was three years old, her parents got divorced. After they divorced, she and her older brother, Bailey Jr., were sent to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. They were not sent in a normal fashion, however. Angelou and her brother were placed on a train by themselves by their father. Their father then put a tag on each of them that said “To Whom It May Concern, send these two to Stamps, Arkansas.” With only each other for support, Angelou and her brother made their way to Stamps. In Stamps, their grandmother Annie Henderson owned a general store. While in Stamps, Angelou was subjected to a great deal of racism and discrimination because she was an African American. She grew up during a time where there was an unequal status between blacks and whites. Throughout her whole time in Stamps her grandmother helped her develop a strong sense of self so that she could withstand those racist times they lived in. Her grandmother knew that if she could help Angelou understand who she is and what she stood for, then none of those racist people could get to her.
A few years later in 1940, Angelou and her brother were then sent to live with their mother in San Francisco, California. At the time, her mother had a boyfriend who stayed with her in her apartment. Within a few months, her mother’s boyfriend had molested Angelou. At first Angelou didn’t say anything about what happened, but eventually told her brother Bailey. Bailey of course went to the police and told what had happened. The man was then put on trial. At first he was sentenced to one year and one day in prison, but his lawyer got him off and he was released from jail the very next day. When he was released he was later killed later that day by Angelou’s uncles. His death devastated her. She believed that by opening her mouth and telling on him, she killed him; she felt that her words killed him. Therefore, for almost four years after his death she fell mute. It took the help of one of her middle school teachers to get her back talking.
When she turned 14 she got a lucky break. She won a scholarship to study dance and drama at San Francisco’s Labor school. However, this success was short lived. Angelou ended up dropping out of the school to become San Francisco’s first African-American female cable car conductor. When she became a cable car conductor her mother ridiculed her for it. Angelou’s mother made her question her femininity. To prove to herself that she was woman she had sex with one of her former classmates. Afterwards she became pregnant with her first son. When she became pregnant she decided to go back to finish high school. A week after her graduation she gave birth to her son whom she named Guy Johnson. To support her son she turned to waitressing and cooking at local diners.