Maya Angelou on Facing Evil

Starting at 6:07

When I was seven and a half I was raped. I won’t say severely raped – all rape is severe. The rapist was a person very well known to my family. I was hospitalized. The rapist was let out of jail and was found dead that night and the police suggested that the rapist had been kicked to death.

I was seven and a half. I thought that I had caused the man’s death because I had spoken his name. That was my seven and a half year old logic. So I stopped talking. For five years.

Now, to show you again how out of evil there can come good, in those five years I read every book in the black school library. I read all the books I could get from the white school library. I memorized James Weldon Johnson, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Countee Cullen and Langston Hughes. I memorized Shakespeare, whole plays. Fifty sonnets. I memorized Edgar Allen Poe. All the poetry. Never having heard it, I memorized it. I had Longfellow, I had Guy de Maupassant, I had Balzac. Rudyard Kipling. I mean it was Catholic kind of reading, and Catholic kind of story.

When I decided to speak, I had a lot to say, and many ways in which to say what I had to say. I listened to the black minister, I listened to the melody of the preachers, and I could tell when they would start up on that kind of thing when you know they mean to take our souls straight to heaven, or whether they meant to dash us straight to hell. I understood it.

So out of this evil, which was a dire kind of evil, because rape on the body of a young person more often than not introduces cynicism. And there is nothing quite so tragic as a young cynic because it means the person has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing. In my case I was saved in that muteness, you see. I was saved… and I was able to draw from human thought, human disappointments and triumphs, enough to triumph myself.


A true “Renaissance” woman, and one of my favourite thinkers.


T. M. G.

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