Discrimination against African American Authors

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Maya Angelou was a very well known African American female who was an author, actor, film director, civil rights activist, play writer, song writer, and poet. (Maya Angelou,2018,¶ 1). She was born in a really racist and segregated rural area in St. Louis. Angelou lived by her philosophy of “you can only become truly accomplished at something you love” (Maya Angelou). Since Angelou lived a demanding life, she found a way to push through all of the pain, hurt, racism, heartache, grief, and demean, to make herself and others stronger by telling them her stories by writing poems, books, plays, and movies.

Maya Angelou was a very courageous African American woman who has become an inspiration to millions of people all over the world and will become an inspiration to generations to come.


The Great Depression affected just about every group of Americans, but unfortunately no race was hit harder than African Americans from 1929 until 1939. By 1932, approximately half of the African Americans were out of work because they were the first ones to be laid off from their jobs (Lynch, 2018, ¶ 1).

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Since they suffered from an unemployment rate that was doubled, almost tripled that than whites, they were the highest unemployment rate of about 50% during this time (Lynch, 2018, ¶ 1). The white Americans would fire as many African Americans as they could so the white Americans who didn’t have jobs, could then have one and be able to provide for their families. African Americans were already struggling supporting their families before the Great Depression knocked down the economy because they were not getting paid a lot, but now they had no way of supporting their family since they were losing their jobs so fast.

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Eventually thousands of African American sharecroppers who fell into debt joined the Great Migration. The Great Migration was when more than 6 million African Americans from the rural South relocated to the cities of the North, Midwest and West from about 1916 to 1970 (Great Migration, n.d., ¶ 1).

They were driven from their homes because of unsatisfactory economic problems and because the segregation laws were too harsh and created unequally, which made many African Americans head north, where they took advantage of the need for industrial workers (Great Migration, n.d., ¶ 1). The president at the time, Franklin D. Roosevelt reinstituted prosperity to America by creating and passing “The New Deal” (New Deal, n.d., ¶ 1). The Great Depression was the push that they needed to actively confront racial prejudice as well as economic, political and social challenges to create a black urban culture that would utilize huge influences in the decades to come (Great Migration, n.d., ¶ 1). “The black experience during the Great Migration became an important theme in the artistic movement known first as the New Negro Movement and later as the Harlem Renaissance, which would have an enormous impact on the culture of the era” (History, n.d., ¶1). The Great Depression was one of the darkest moments in American history for all Americans, but it made African Americans grow together as one to stand up for their equality. Discrimination against African Americans made them stronger and later making them start the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950’s.

WWII was from 1939 until 1945, when discrimination against African Americans still prevented them from getting any kind of jobs until the United States entered the war on December 7,1941 because Japan bombed the American fleet in Pearl Harbor,Hawaii (Lynch, 2018, ¶ 7 and Nichols, 2015, ¶ 3). On June 25, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt distributed the Executive Order 8802 that “opened national defense jobs and other government jobs to all Americans regardless of race, creed, color or national origin”– (Editors,H. , 2009, ¶ 8). Once the United States entered into the war, many jobs began to open up and “[A]frican Americans secured more jobs at better wages” (Lynch, 2018, ¶ 7).

While white Americans were fighting over seas, African Americans were starting to fight together for equal rights and fight against discrimination. Race riots occurred, which led to the biggest and most destructive one in Detroit on June 20, 1943 where nine white Americans and twenty five African Americans were killed in the riots and about seven hundred African Americans injured by the police (Lynch, 2018, ¶ 8 and Encyclopedia of Detroit, n.d., ¶ 9). “December 1941,a large portion of African American soldiers overseas, were in service units, and combat troops remained segregated” (Lynch, 2018, ¶ 8). With African Americans being able to fight in the war even though it was still segregated, it gave them more opportunities to do things they wanted to do. Like how Benjamin O. Davis Sr. had become the first black brigadier general (Lynch, 2018, ¶ 8).

Things were slowly getting better African Americans as time went on, and “[i]n the Korean war, blacks for the first time ever, fought side by side with the whites in fully integrated units” (Lynch, 2018, ¶ 8). Just because African Americans fought side by side with the white Americans did not mean that when they went home they still weren’t being discriminated against. It was just one step closer to fighting for the ultimate goal of being treated equal with all of the other Americans. “At the end of World War II, African Americans were poised to make far-reaching demands to end racism. They were unwilling to give up the minimal gains that had been made during the war” (Lynch, 2018, ¶ 1).

The 1950’s was when the Civil Rights Movement was created and when African Americans fought hard to gain equal rights and respect in the United States.The Civil War may have ended slavery, but discrimination did not end. African Americans weren’t able eat in the same place as white Americans, attend the same school as white Americans, drink from the same water fountain as white Americans, they weren’t able to vote because they couldn’t pass the cheated literacy tests, interracial marriages were illegal, etc. Big leaders of the Civil Rights Movement included Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Ralph Abernathy, and many many more including Maya Angelou. The leaders of the Civil Rights Movement used peaceful and nonviolent protest to make a change in society in America. One of the most well known incidents happened on December 1, 1955. “ Rosa Parks found a seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus after work [even though] [s]egregation laws at the time stated blacks must sit in designated seats at the back of the bus” (Editors,H. , 2009, ¶ 11).

Rosa Parks had refused to move out of the seat when a white male got on the bus and couldn’t find any seats in the whites only section. The bus driver told her to move, but Rosa refused and got arrested. When word got out that she had been arrested the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) was formed and was led by Martin Luther King Jr (Editors,H. , 2009, ¶ 13). “Parks’ courage incited the MIA to stage a boycott of the Montgomery bus system, [which] lasted 381 days until segregated seating was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court” (Editors,H. , 2009, ¶ 13). On April 11, 1968, the Fair Housing Act became law, a few days after King’s assassination and was one of the last legislation that was enacted during the civil rights movement era. The Fair Housing Act prevented housing discrimination based on race, sex, national origin and religion (Editors,H. , 2009, ¶ 39). “The civil rights movement was an empowering yet precarious time for [African Americans]” ( Editors,H. , 2009, ¶ 40). The civil rights activists did countless protest with protestors of all races brought together to end segregation, black voter suppression and any other discrimination against all insignificant races, but mainly African Americans.


1928-1940: Maya Angelou was born as Marguerite Ann Johnson on April 8,1928 in St. Louis, Missouri. When her parents Bailey Johnson and Vivian Baxter Johnson split in 1931, when she was only three years old, she and her older brother Bailey Jr., moved to Stamps, Arkansas with their paternal grandmother, Anne Henderson (Hamill,Sam, 2018, ¶ 1 and Foundation, 2018, ¶ 1). Angelou’s older brother Bailey Jr. had a speech issue and couldn’t pronounce Angelou’s name correctly, so gave her the nickname “Maya”– the name she is known by–. In 1935, Angelou and Bailey Jr. moved back to St. Louis with to love with their mother (Maya Angelou Timeline, n.d., ¶ 2). When she was only eight years old, unfortunately she was abused and raped by her mother’s boyfriend, Mr.Freeman. Her brother had found out she had been rape and he persuaded her to tell him who raped her (Anirudh,2018,¶ 2).

Mr. Freeman was convicted and sentenced, but the case didn’t go very far and he was released the next day. Four days later, Mr. Freeman had been beat to death by Angelou’s uncles (Anirudh,2018,¶ 2). Maya had become so traumatized because she thought it was her fault, and became mute for four almost five years. Once again, Angelou and Bailey Jr. move back to Stamps with their grandmother (Maya Angelou Timeline, n.d., ¶ 5). During those four years of her being mute, she only spoke to her brother and began reading and grew love and admiration for literature and writing (Anirudh,2018,¶ 2). She read all kinds of authors such as Langston Hughes, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Paul Lawrence Dunbar. A teacher, Bertha Flowers, helped Angelou speak again and encouraged her interest in literature (Maya Angelou Timeline, n.d., ¶ 7). In a children’s book Angelou had read, it emphasized the importance of the spoken word and explained the nature of importance of education and instilled in her a love of poetry (Anirudh, 2018, ¶2). This is one of the theories of why people think she became so successful in writing.

1941-1948: In 1941, Angelou moved with her mom to San Francisco, California. At the age of 14, she started attending George Washington High School. Angelou ended up dropping out of school to become the first African American female to become a cable car conductor in 1942 (Maya Angelou Timeline, n.d., ¶ 8). A year later Maya returned to school so she could graduate and to study dance and drama from a scholarship she got at the California Labor School (Maya Angelou Timeline, n.d., ¶ 9). When Angelou got pregnant at 16,she was scared her mom would kick her out, disown her, etc (Capretto, L., 2013, ¶ 1). Angelou’s mother, actually never shamed her for being young, unmarried, and pregnant. Her mother looked past that and chose to help and support Angelou and her efforts to raise her son on her own” (Capretto, L., 2013, ¶ 1&2). Angelou’s mother gave her the choice of if things ever get too hard, she could always come back home and stay with her. Angelou appreciated her mom’s support, but after she graduated highschool at the age of 17 and gave birth to a baby boy, Guy Johnson, a few weeks later, she left home to become a cook and waitress to support and provide for her son as a single and young mom (Anirudh, 2018, ¶ 3 &5 ).

Favorite poem:

Still I Rise by Maya Angelou, uses repetition, metaphors, hyperboles and similes to express to the reader about how she has overcome racism throughout her life by demonstrating a strong, proud and defiant attitude to inspire others to not be afraid and torn down by what others may do to you, but to be able to “rise” up. Angelou starts off with,

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise. (1-4)

Angelou uses an a,b,c,b pattern, the reader is already able to identify the key idea:no matter how nasty people treat you “with your bitter, twisted lies…like dust, I’ll rise.” Angelou compares herself to the rising dust after the struggle of overcoming prejudice and injustice. She continues with,

Does my sassiness upset you?

Why are you beset with gloom?

Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons, and like suns,

With the certainty of tides.

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I’ll rise. (5-12)

Angelou gets this arrogant and self confident attitude in line 5, to express how she thinks the people who are pulling her down feel. She starts comparing herself to the moon, sun,water tides, and hope to indicate that nothing is in her way to stop believing that she will overcome racism. She then says,

Did you want to see mee broken?

Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops,

Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?

Don’t you take it awful hard

Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines

Diggin’ in my own backyard. (13-20)

Does my sexiness upset you?

Does it come as a surprise

That I dance like I’ve got diamonds

At the meeting of my thighs? (25-28)

Angelou still has this arrogant and self confident attitude and starts using hyperboles in lines 17 and 25 by using the words “haughtiness” and “sexiness” to reveal that no one can break the confidence she has.

You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I’ll rise. (21-24)

Angelou uses such aggressive verbs such as, “shoot”, “cut”, and “kill” to show a more hostile way of explaining how slavery, history, and societal issues has not affected her confidence because she will “rise”.

Poetry analysis:

Angelou uses the title I Know Why the Birds Sing, to compare a caged bird with herself. She uses contrast between the bird to equip herself by expressing her emotions about freedom and isolation. Maya Angelou starts the poem off by giving life into her description of the ‘free bird’ (line 1) by using verbs like ‘leaps’ (line 1), ‘floats’ (line 3), and ‘dips’ (line 5). The ‘free bird’ symbolizes freedom and the verbs symbolizes the joy and energy that is contained. She then continues to describe the ‘caged bird’ by using words like ‘bars of rage’ (line 11), ‘grave’ (line 27), ‘fearful’ (lines 16 and 32), and ‘shadow’ (line 28). These inauspicious words are references to isolation and its compared with freedom. The type of contrast she uses throughout the entire poem is powerful. The contrast highlights the comfort of freedom and how the poet achieves a better understanding of the ease of freedom by comparing it with something worse. The irony is used to be dexterous and effective, but also to be less direct in conveying her feelings. “The caged bird sings with a fearful trill” (lines 15-16 and 25-26). This sentence is ironic as the caged bird is the one singing not the free bird as we expect.

However, the words ‘fearful’ (lines 16 and 32) and ‘trill’ (lines 16 and 26) makes us realize that it is not a happy tune, but a desperate cry for freedom. This reinsurance enables us to reach to more depth and appreciate freedom. Angelou’s poem The Brave and Startling Truth expresses her feelings on the importance of love and the capability to grant what she considers a “real life”. This poem, speaks with agony and integrity about how important it is being taken away from this god-like creation we call Love. She argues that we as humans are unfamiliar to courage. She says we are “lonely” (line 1), but still without a real life. To access this liberation, one must be brave and vulnerable enough for love to break their personal barricade of fear.

Ultimately, Maya Angelou conveys the themes of liberation through love, equality and freedom through love, and bravery to realize the liberation of love. There are two major themes in this poem: the journey and the destination. Maya Angelou talks about three different types of journeys on which the human race is traveling: the journey through the cosmos, history,and toward a better future. In this journey through the cosmos, we are seemingly alone, living on a tiny rock, spinning through a vast, dark universe. Angelou writes,

We, this people, on a small and lonely planet

Traveling through casual space

Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns (VI,1-3, 1995).

This ties into the other theme of the poem: destination. Humanity is traveling on this little planet through time and space, towards a destination called “the day of peacemaking.”

The poem Men has inspired numerous debates and explorations into Angelou’s meaning and purpose of the piece. A semi-autobiographical work, it reflects a young woman’s movement into sexual awareness and loss of innocence with violent, intense metaphorical phrasing. These three poems in some kind of way help the reader try and find confidence and strength when things are going bad.

The poem Still I Rise uses repetition, metaphors and similes to express t how she has overcome racism in her life by demonstrating a strong, proud and defiant attitude to inspire others to do the same. The word ‘rise’ is repeated throughout the poem to show that she has overcome and has rose above racism. The use of a metaphor in the last stanza relates back to the key idea of the poem. ‘I am the dream and the hope of the slave,’ (III, 40, 1978) is directly comparing herself to what a slave dreams about: equality and freedom. A Conceit is a brief, but blunt poem where Angelou utilizes a commanding tone and staunch comparisons to indicate she is not interested in a superficial relationship or a fixation with the pain that one can bring.

Rather, she is interested in something real and tangible—something honest—and her approach of giving commands indicates this is a concept she is not willing to back down on. This adds a level of importance to her desires and strengthens the message of the poem that tangible and real are superior to superficial and despondent. Alone The message of this poem is that humanity needs to unite in order to be successful. She also thinks that humans becoming more independent will eventually have a negative affect on society. These poems talk about social and political issues as well as oppression. Angelou’s writing style has many similarities throughout all her poetry. She tends to use a direct, conversational voice to share her stories. She also employs strong and compelling metaphors, similes, and irony.


Marguerite Ann Johnson was a very successful poet, writer, performer, actress, playwriter, director, dancer, singer, and a civil rights activist (Hamill, S., 2018, ¶ 1). She is known for being one of the most famous influencing African American women figures in the 20th century. Maya Angelou may have been mute for almost 5 years at one point in her life, but she had lots to say and became the voice for women and black community. “There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you” (Maya Angelou).

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Discrimination against African American Authors. (2022, Jan 13). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/discrimination-against-african-american-authors-essay

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