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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tony Lindsay Presents... A Portrait of Maya Angelou

Ghana became the home of many Black expatriates in the nineteen fifties; after the developing African nation garnered its independence, many Black Americans seeking refuge and a homecoming immigrated there. From 1962 through 1965, Maya Angelou settled there as well. She recorded those years in her 1986 memoir titled All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes. The work was more than Angelou’s simple accounting of her years spent in Ghana: what was offered was the experience of a single mom rearing her son in a foreign land, the reality of an African homecoming for Black Americans, and the linking of Black Americans to their African roots.

Early in the memoir, Angelou defined home as being with her son. She considered time spent with her son as being at home. When they were together, they were home; Angelou, “we had been each other’s home and center for seventeen years.” (5) This idea of home revolving around her son shifted in the work when her son grew into a man. Learning how to adapt to one’s center or home changing was a single mom dynamic that peppered the entire memoir. How she adapted provides sage advice for any parent. With her home or center changed, Angelou like the other Black Americans that lived in Ghana sought a home.

Angelou categorized the Black American immigrants into four groups: whole families who largely supported themselves through farming and teaching, those sent by and supported by the American government, business people who were looking for ground floor opportunities, and writers and artist who had political opinions; she called this last group “a cadre of political émigrés.” She considered herself part of the political group whose “members were impassioned and volatile, dedicated to Africa, and Africans at home and abroad.” (23) 

Despite there being different immigrant groups of Black Americans in Ghana, Angelou felt that they were all lumped into one group by Ghanaians, “American Negros.” This bothered her because she expected to be considered a long lost African sister who had returned home. The reality of being thought of as merely an American Negro brought disillusionment, “At least we wanted someone to embrace us and maybe congratulate us because we had survived. If they felt the urge, they could thank us for having returned.” (22) There was no homecoming parade Angelou or the other artists, but for those who claimed to love Africa, as her group did, Ghana had work.

Angelou’s day-to-day life in Ghana was steeped in African culture and tradition, and she did not miss an opportunity to relate the culture and tradition of Ghana to her Black American upbringing. In the memoir, she laid the two cultures side by side allowing Ghanaian tradition to be seen in Black American culture. From the phrase “Auntie” to the community preparing a meal for a visiting stranger, to the village raising a child, the sameness in both cultures was witnessed. Throughout the memoir, Angelou linked the two cultures, and she did it without formality; the sameness was shown through her workday, through her dating, through her getting her hair done; there was no parade when Black Americans return to Africa, but Angelou wrote the living culture embracing what she called, “Revolutionist Returnees.” (119) Again, there was no formal celebration for the returning Black Americans, but Angelou wrote the African life enveloping them day-by-day. 

It was not until the end of the text that Angelou linked herself to Africa; throughout the work the linking was for the all-inclusive American Negro of which she was part, but at the end the reader experienced Africa wrapping her arms around Maya Angelou. A recurring thought that bothered Angelou throughout memoir was the anger and envy she felt for Ghanaians and all Africans for the selling and abandonment of the Africans that were sold into slavery.  At the end of the memoir, she faced these emotions head on, and experienced a healing that can be passed on to the reader. All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes is an excellent memoir that portrays the political and social climate of Ghana in the 1960’s, and the reader gets to be up-close and personal with one of America’s greatest writers, Maya Angelou. 

Tony Lindsay is an award-winning author and adjunct professor at Chicago State University. His book ONE DEAD DOCTOR was chosen by Conversations Book Club as one of its Top 100 Books of 2012. Lindsay was named Conversations Author of the Year 2012-2013.  His latest book EMOTIONAL DRIPPINGS is available now on Amazon.com. He can be reached on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tony.linssay2.

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