Video: Maya Angelou Reads Mary Prince

May 28, 2014

Maya Angelou, the world-renowned poet and civil rights activist, died today [May 28] in her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, leaving behind a legacy of written and spoken words that have served to inspire countless people over several generations.

She was, in turn, inspired by people who had come before her, including Bermudian Mary Prince, a woman born into slavery who later published a compelling autobiography detailing her struggles in 1831.

According to CNN, “The 86-year-old Angelou was a novelist, actress, professor, singer, dancer and activist. In 2010, President Barack Obama named her the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor.

“One of Angelou’s most praised books was I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The memoir bore witness to the brutality of a Jim Crow South, portraying racism in stark language. Readers learned of the life of Marguerite Ann Johnson, Angelou’s birth name, up to the age of 16, including how she was abandoned by her parents and raped by her mother’s boyfriend. She was homeless and became a teen mother.”

Maya Angelou speaking at a rally for Barack Obama, 2008

Maya_Angelou_speech_for_Barack_Obama_campaign_2008

It was that daring publication that helped Maya Angelou to relate to Mary Prince, a Bermudian woman born into slavery in Bermuda who published a personal account of her own ordeal in 1831.

When Myners died in 1788, Mary Prince and her mother were sold as household servants to Captain Darrell, who gave Mary to his granddaughter, Betsey Williams. When she was 12, Mary Prince was sold for 38 pounds sterling to Captain John Ingham of Spanish Point. She never took easily to the indignities of her enslavement and was often flogged.

As punishment, she was sold to another Bermudian, probably Robert Darrell, who sent her in 1806 to Grand Turk to work in the salt industry. Mary returned to Bermuda in 1810 and was sold to John Adams Wood in 1818 for $300 and sent to Antigua to be a domestic slave.

She joined the Moravian Church and, in December 1826, married Daniel James, a former slave who had bought his freedom and worked as a carpenter and cooper. For this impudence, she was severely beaten by her master.

In 1828, Wood and his family took Mary with then to London as a servant. After years of abuse, Mary ran away from her master and took shelter with the Moravian church in Hatton Garden. Within a few weeks, she had employment with Thomas Pringle, an abolitionist writer and Secretary to the Anti-Slavery Society – she ‘broke the silence’ by telling her story to the that activist group.

In 1829, Wood refused to either manumit her or allow her to be bought out of his control. His refusal meant that she could not return to Antigua without returning to slave status. Her autobiography, The History of Mary Prince, published in 1831, was the first account of the life of a black woman to be published in the United Kingdom. Mary Prince spoke of slavery with the authority of personal experience.

It was that book that caught the attention of Maya Angelou, leading to her introducing readings from the 1831 autobiography.

Poet Maya Angelou introduces readings from Mary Prince’s 1831 autobiography:

CNN continued, “Angelou’s list of friends is as impressive as her illustrious career. Talk show queen Oprah Winfrey referred to her as “sister friend.” She counted Rosa Parks, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., with whom she worked during the civil rights movement, among her friends. King was assassinated on her birthday.”

Given her close ties with human and civil rights activists, established over generations, Maya Angelou is well-known and admired around the world, including here in Bermuda. In order to honour her memory, CedarBridge Academy has organised a special assembly to pay homage to the poet tomorrow [May 29] at 10.20am in the school’s Ruth Seaton James Auditorium.

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Comments (2)

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  1. Steve Biko says:

    Very interesting, Powerful Woman, Black People should be proud of the progress we’ve made(and still progressing) from working for a few Centuries for free and were SOLD (as if working for free was not enough) while White people benefited Econnomicaly and Socially (and still benefiting) is a Testament of a Proud and Resilient People( contrary to popular belief)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    And for those of you who want to throw de RACIST card, stick to de script.

    • Evie says:

      Yes I enjoyed everytime I heard her speak beautiful strong knowledge woman RIP Ms Angelou