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A fond farewell

Private funeral for poet laureate set for Saturday

Ashley Montgomery | 6/5/2014, 9 a.m.
Funeral services for poet laureate Dr. Maya Angelou will be held Saturday, June 7 at Wake Forest University. The university ...
In this file photo, internationally renowned poet Maya Angelou delivers a poem at Colorado State University, Pueblo's Massari Arena on October 19, 2003. Mike Sweeney

— Funeral services for poet laureate Dr. Maya Angelou will be held Saturday, June 7 at Wake Forest University. The university will stream the service live on its website for the public's viewing at 10 p.m., according to the school's website.

Angelou, who was also a civil rights activist, professor and actress, passed away Wednesday in her Winston-Salem home. She was 86.

Multiple accounts report that Angelou’s caregiver found her dead.

Her death was confirmed by Helen Brann, her longtime literary agent. No immediate cause of death has been determined, but Brann said Ms. Angelou had heart problems and her health had become frail.

Born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis on April 4, 1928, Angelou for years did not celebrate her birthday since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King fell on the same day. Her father was Bailey Johnson Sr., a Navy dietitian. Her mother, Vivian Baxter, was a nurse, hotel owner and card dealer. As a girl, Ms.Angelou was known as Rita, Ritie or Maya, her older brother's childhood nickname for her.

After her parents' marriage ended, 3-year-old Maya was sent with her her 4-year-old brother, Bailey to live with their father's mother in Stamps, Ark. She returned periodically to St. Louis over the years.

As a teenager, living with her mother in San Francisco, Angelo studied dance and drama at the California labor School and became the first Black woman to work as a streetcar conductor.

Angelou is best known for her award-winning writing, including "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," an autographical piece about suffering and prevailing.

"Her family is extremely grateful that her ascension was not belabored by a loss of acuity or comprehension," wrote her son, Guy B. Johnson in a statement. "She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace."

Johnson continued: "the family is extremely appreciative of the time we had with her and we know that she is looking down upon us with love."

In possibly her last words to the public, Angelou tweeted: "Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God."

Even in her death, her influence was felt by many leaders of the Black community who were deeply affected by the writer's passing.

Al Sharpton called Angelou the renaissance woman of the last century.

"She was our poet, conscience, teacher and corrector," he said. "Not only was she a literary icon, she was one of the few that turned her words into action. She challenged leaders of the civil rights movement to embrace the struggles of others and a broader view of freedom fighting."