Two weeks ago, the world had a great light extinguished when Dr. Maya Angelou passed away. I have been thinking about her legacy a bit since her passing, and have been primarily grateful that she left us with such a written record of her triumphs and her struggles and her fights for freedom and equality.
I was fortunate enough as an undergraduate English student many years ago to attend a gathering in Birmingham, Ala., at which Dr. Angelou read from both her most recent work and previous pieces. Her power and passion made such an impact on an impressionable young reader and writer, and I’ll never forget the feeling I had of sitting so close to that voice -- close enough that it felt like the sound waves were beaming directly into my heart. Maya Angelou was an inspiration to me for many reasons, but chief among them were her unrelenting march toward justice and her refusal to be bowed by hardship.
When thinking about how to connect the inspiration I received from Dr. Angelou to my work here at NURFC in collections, I obviously thought about the struggle for freedom and justice, but also the place that guiding light serves in the story of the Underground Railroad and in Maya Angelou’s own story. She was inspired by a Paul Laurence Dunbar poem for her greatest known work, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and passed that inspiration on to generation upon generation that followed her. Walking through our galleries each morning, I am lucky enough to be able to take in the great artistry of the And Still We Rise (a paraphrase of a line from Maya Angelou!) quilting exhibit, which features a piece dedicated to the Dunbar work as well as Dr. Angelou’s, and I see the chain of influence in which she is a mighty link.
The world would be much darker without Maya Angelou’s light, and we are called to continue to rise – to overcome hardship and to help raise those also struggling toward freedom and justice.
The Paul Laurence Dunbar and Maya Angelou quilts, along with over 80 others, can be seen in the And Still We Rise exhibit in the Skirball Gallery through September 1.
-- Gina K. Armstrong, IMLS Coca-Cola Museum Studies Apprentice