Patterico's Pontifications


Maya Angelou’s Decision

Filed under: General — Dana @ 4:26 pm

[guest post by Dana]

Earlier this week, noted author Maya Angelou passed away at 86. I read an interesting essay she wrote about her decision to keep her baby when she found out she was pregnant at age 16. Poking around the web, I found the essay also linked at Ricochet and was struck by the wide range of a few comments left by readers.

–One more comment on this post because it quite honestly, infuriated me. I don’t for one minute disapprove of pre-marital sex yet I certainly don’t approve of using abortion as a method of birth control. What I approve of is making responsible choices about one’s personal life that do not incur “procedures” or single motherhood or the ruination of inner city neighborhoods.

–It didn’t endorse but in my humble opinion, it glamorized; most teenagers do not grow up to be Maya Angelou. More realistic examples should have been provided from the single black mothers who contribute to a 75% illegitimacy rate and are responsible for the statistics that one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime.

–Wow, what an amazing story.

–Grrreat message to send to young unmarried women.

–God bless. These are stories that need to be shouted from the rooftops.

Focusing on the decision made as a 16 year old, was it a selfless, noble choice or was it a pre-cursor to the growing crisis within the black community which began in the 1940’s, (around the very time Angelou made the decision)?

Here is the essay in its entirety:

The Decision That Changed My Life:
Keeping My Baby
by Maya Angelou

When I was 16, a boy in high school evinced interest in me, so I had sex with him — just once. And after I came out of that room, I thought, Is that all there is to it? My goodness, I’ll never do that again! Then, when I found out I was pregnant, I went to the boy and asked him for help, but he said it wasn’t his baby and he didn’t want any part of it.

I was scared to pieces. Back then, if you had money, there were some girls who got abortions, but I couldn’t deal with that idea. Oh, no. No. I knew there was somebody inside me. So I decided to keep the baby.

My older brother, Bailey, my confidant, told me not to tell my mother or she’d take me out of school. So I hid it the whole time with big blouses! Finally, three weeks before I was due, I left a note on my stepfather’s pillow telling him I was pregnant. He told my mother, and when she came home, she calmly asked me to run her bath.

I’ll never forget what she said: “Now tell me this — do you love the boy?” I said no. “Does he love you?” I said no. “Then there’s no point in ruining three lives. We are going to have our baby!”

What a knockout she was as a mother of teens. Very loving. Very accepting. Not one minute of recrimination. And I never felt any shame.

I’m telling you that the best decision I ever made was keeping that baby! Yes, absolutely. Guy was a delight from the start — so good, so bright, and I can’t imagine my life without him.

At 17 I got a job as a cook and later as a nightclub waitress. I found a room with cooking privileges, because I was a woman with a baby and needed my own place. My mother, who had a 14-room house, looked at me as if I was crazy! She said, “Remember this: You can always come home.” She kept that door open. And every time life kicked me in the belly, I would go home for a few weeks.

I struggled, sure. We lived hand-to-mouth, but it was really heart-to-hand. Guy had love and laughter and a lot of good reading and poetry as a child. Having my son brought out the best in me and enlarged my life. Whatever he missed, he himself is a great father today. He was once asked what it was like growing up in Maya Angelou’s shadow, and he said, “I always thought I was in her light.”

Years later, when I was married, I wanted to have more children, but I couldn’t conceive. Isn’t it wonderful that I had a child at 16? Praise God!


11 Responses to “Maya Angelou’s Decision”

  1. Praise God, indeed. She knew there was someone inside her, not a just a glob of
    cells. I agree with the person on this site who said that as soon as a woman is
    pregnant, she is a mother. Guy had it right; he was in his mother’s light. We all were in our mother’s light.

    felipe (098e97)

  2. I never thought much of her work, her life-decisions are another matter though.

    askeptic (8ecc78)

  3. people make their choices and then they live with the consequences

    it’s a good thing

    happyfeet (8ce051)

  4. She was an inspiration to many, but I was inspired by the truly bad poetry she authored, which was humorously covered/satirized by Bernard McGuirk on Don Imus’s show.

    Colonel Haiku (560fd2)

  5. If anyone cares, it’s interesting that Angelou believed one had the right to be armed in one’s home:

    Money Quote:

    TIME: Your mother, she was your protector. She often carried a gun, she seemed very fond of guns. Did you inherit your mother’s fondness for guns?

    ANGELOU: Well, I do like to have guns around. I don’t like to carry them. But if somebody is going to come into my house, and I have not put out the welcome mat, I want to stop them.

    TIME: Have you ever fired a weapon?

    ANGELOU: Of course!

    IGotBupkia,"Si tacuisses, philosophus mansisses." (aacc3d)

  6. Neo-neocon had what I thought was a nice tribute to Angelou as well. She agrees about
    the bad poetry but she concentrated on Maya’s 1969 book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

    “Those who read it now probably can’t quite imagine how fresh and powerful it was at that time. In the interim, coming-of-age memoirs by women—including by black or other minority women—have become far more commonplace, as have descriptions of childhood sexual abuse. Those things were part of Angelou’s book back in a time when they were unusual to read about…… But a lot of other things about her book remain extraordinary, and they are the reason I read it and found it memorable.

    “The first is the power of her unique and lyric voice, which was (and remains) utterly arresting and utterly engaging. The reader is drawn at once into the world of Angelou’s childhood, where black children are sent on trains halfway across the country with notes pinned on their clothing as to where they’re going, and met by grandmothers who take them in and raise them with strength and religion and firmness in a world that is entirely black, including the schools and the teachers. The portrait in the book of Angelou’s grandmother Annie Henderson is one of the great ones of memoir. Nor is it sugar-coated and touchy-feely; her grandmother was deeply loving but extremely formidable.

    “The rape that occurs later, at the hands of Angelou’s mother’s live-in boyfriend when 8-year-old Maya and her brother have been sent back to St. Louis to live with her, is heartbreakingly rendered. Described from the child’s viewpoint, it somehow manages to depict something that has rarely been conveyed so well: how the child’s starvation for paternal affection can set up the neediness that makes him/her vulnerable,

    There is much additional texture to this childhood rape story as well and how it influenced other aspects of Angelou’s life and accomplishments.

    elissa (021085)

  7. While stopping at a number of feminist sites to read about Angelou and her passing, not one mentioned either her decision to keep her baby as opposed to aborting him, nor about her support of the individual keeping guns to protect themselves.

    Dana (9a8f57)

  8. Reading her obituary, it looks like most of Maya Angelous’s decisions in her life weren’t good, or admirable.

    Some of them are just interesting, like the fact she stopped celebrating her
    birthday for many years after 1968 because her birthdat was April 4, the same day Martin Luher King was assassinated. She had succeeded Bayard Rustin as the coordinator of the New York office of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

    Among other things she did on her life, she was a prostitute and madam,. That may have bene what prevented her from having children later) She was a calypso dancer and singer, too, which was when she adopted the Maya Angelou.


    In the early 1960s, Ms. Angelou became romantically involved with Vusumzi L. Make, a South African civil rights activist. She moved with him to Cairo, where she became the associate editor of a magazine, The Arab Observer. After leaving Mr. Make — she found him paternalistic and controlling, she later wrote — she moved to Accra, Ghana, where she was an administrative assistant at the University of Ghana.

    This would have been when Kwame Nkrumah was dictator of Ghana. (1960 to February 1966, when he was on a visit to Peking and Hanoi.) W. E. B. DuBois had also settled there.

    Then she worked wih Malcolm X.

    She played Kunta Kinte’s grandmother in the 1977 television mini-series “Roots,” and appeared in several other movies.

    Sammy Finkelman (8cd742)

  9. Aw, for God’s sake, Sammy. Shut up once in a while. Jesus! Her first husband was a Greek named Angelos, Angelou is the feminine/genitive declension, and she kept it. That other crap you wrote … WHY?

    nk (dbc370)

  10. The New York Times in fact said her stage name was “a variant of her married name” And
    gave his name.

    Why the rest? There was a lot wronng with much of her intellectual activity, and with some of her associations, and they’re not going into it.

    If there hadn’t been, Bill Clinton would never have chosen her to speak at his inauguration.

    Sammy Finkelman (8cd742)

  11. A kibitzer who wants to pass himself off as a maven needs to know when not to say something, Sammy. Really.

    nk (dbc370)

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