Maya Angelou

Broadcast in History

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The Pulitzer Prize-winning author, who came of age in St. Louis during the 40s, recalls her first experience overcoming racial barriers. “I was 15 and I had missed about four weeks of school. But I was ahead, so my mother said I didn’t have to go to school that semester—but I had to have a job,” she tells host Judy Joy Jones. “I’d seen women on the streetcar in their uniforms with their change belt… And they looked so cute. So I went down to apply for a job. And I didn’t notice there were no blacks. I just saw women. But no one would even offer me an application. So I went back to my mother and I was really devastated. She asked me, ‘Do you know why?’ I said, ‘Yes, because I’m a negro.’ She said, ‘Do you want the job?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ ‘Then go get it,’ she said. ‘You be there before the secretaries come in in the morning. And you stay there.’”

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