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“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”

“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” is the first of Maya Angelou’s seven autobiographies depicting the author’s early life growing up in a deeply segregated south in the 1930’s and 40’s. The title comes from a poem by African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. The caged bird, a symbol for the chained slave, is an image Angelou uses throughout all her writings.

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,
When he beats his bars and would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings –
I know why the caged bird sings.

It is impossible for me to have any understanding of what blacks went through during this time. Seeing it through Maya Angelou’s eyes is a beginning.

One can only begin to feel the horror, intimidation, and evil that was directed towards people because of their skin color, and particularly black women during this time. You can only have the greatest of respect for those that survived that time and could write something like this:

“If we tolerate vulgarity our future will sway and fall under a burden of ignorance. It need not be so. We have the brains and the heart to face our futures bravely. Taking responsibility for the time we take up and the space we occupy.”

As we come out of the hell of the past year, can we learn how little we have been affected by nature, when compared with the evil that can be inflicted on others. Maya Angelou understood, through experience, that the most hurtful things aren’t from nature, but are from words and actions of our fellow man.

I commend “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” to you. It was written over 50 years ago and is a reminder of the fact that evil exists and must be fought in all its forms.

JVH

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