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I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings Timeline

For Humanistic Studies, Lives and Times Course Group B; Racism and Segregation

Meghan Vis

on 27 May 2012

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Transcript of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings Timeline

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings Timeline Racism and Segregation in Maya Angelou's Memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is an autobiographical account of the events of Maya Angelou’s, a renowned poet and author’s life. Born in 1928, this memoir covers Maya’s journey as she is shipped with her brother Bailey from their birthplace in Saint Louis, Missouri to Stamps, Arkansas to live with their grandmother. Fighting against everything from the normal struggles of growing up, to overcoming the failure of her parents, to the struggles of being an African American female in the south during this time Maya overcomes a lot throughout the course of the plot line. Racism and segregation are important themes within this memoir because, even though Maya faces many struggles throughout her life, the fight against racism is constant. Even when her community is forced to face the depression, when she is violently raped or when she has a baby out of wedlock, these struggles are twice the battle because of her racial status. As Maya is not a static character within her novel, so too is the concept of racism, making it an even more important theme to consider when reading this book. Angelou’s work is written at a time of great change for the African American community in the United States. We can see the world changing as Maya goes from living in a neighborhood of sharecroppers to being one of the first African Americans to work on the San Francisco Streetcars. Along with these personal victories against racism, Maya references several historic victories and National points of conflict for her race. Summary Theme of Racism and Segregation June 22, 1983 Joe Louis Boxing Match “The winnah, and still heavyweight champen of the world…Joe Louis” (Angelou 136). Joe Louis changed the lives of all African Americans in a boxing match when he defeated Max Schmeling on June 22, 1938. The noise that was created by the crowd both in the arena and out was not just an effort to express the happiness inside; it was intended to communicate to those beyond Harlem's boundaries that they would tap those "untold reserves of strength" and that Louis's triumph was just the beginning (Corbould 865). It became a moral victory not only for himself, but his country too as WWII was taking place. His victory symbolizes a feeling of empowerment for African Americans during a time period when no one thought that a Black man could be good at anything, let along hold a title. To African Americans this boxing match meant freedom, “If Joe lost we were back in slavery and beyond help” (Angelou 135). A lot was riding on this single match. If Louis won it would open many doors for the African American community and also say a lot about blacks courage, power, and strength. In Angelou’s memoir she goes into great detail about the atmosphere of the town. Everyone was huddled around a radio listening intensely to his every move. After the victory everyone was ecstatic, “It wouldn’t do for a Black man and his family to be caught on a lonely country road on a night when Joe Louis had proved that we were the strongest people in the world” (Angelou 136). It is very interesting to focus on Angelou’s word choice in this quote because she chose to say, “We were the strongest people in the world," as if she were speaking on behalf of all the Blacks. It wasn’t saying that Louis was the strongest person in the world, but Louis essentially represented all of the Blacks who had no voice to speak up and fight back. During this time period, Whites controlled everything. Whites believed that they were superior and Blacks had no chance in the world. When Angelou used “we” it gave me a feeling of empowerment that even though I wasn’t present during this I could feel how much she put her heart into this boxing match, along with the rest of the African American culture. Japanese Moved to Internment Camps; African Americans Replace Japanese in California 1942 Throughout the majority of “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” Maya Angelou and fellow African Americans experience much racism and displacement. At one instance, however, Angelou felt a sense of belonging within a community. “In the early months of World War II, San Francisco’s Filmore district, or Western Addition, experienced a visible revolution” (Angelou 209). Angelou’s community was more and more becoming filled with African Americans as the Japanese left the area. Angelou writes, “as the Japanese disappeared, soundlessly and without protest, the Negroes entered with their loud jukeboxes, their just-released animosities and the relied of escape from Southern bonds” (Angelou 209). The Japanese departure was caused by conflict surrounding the attacks on Pearl Harbor and World War II. According to Isabel Wilkerson’s book, many African American travelers made note of the gradual transition into freedom as they moved further and further out of the south and further away from the Jim Crow laws (Wilkerson 199). This freedom came as a result of Pearl Harbor, and the possibility of Japanese saboteurs in California, in which, “President Roosevelt issued an executive order on February 20, 1942, authorizing the Army to evacuate anyone, alien or citizen, from military areas” (Roucek 647). This caused a massive evacuation of Japanese throughout the West Coast (Roucek 647). Angelou notes the significance of this time in that, “In San Francisco, for the first time, I perceived myself as part of something” (Angelou 211). Angelou described the unusual experience as uplifting for all those African Americans who had been oppressed for so long, and seized their seizing of the opportunities the Japanese vacancy left for them upon their departure. Brown vs The Board of Education 1954 May 17, 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education was a historical decision made by the US Supreme Courts. This ruling declared that segregated schools were unconstitutional, which went against Plessy vs. Ferguson that stated segregated schools were constitutional. James T. Patterson, author of the article Brown v. Board of Education: The Law, the Legacy, states in his article that the Harlem’s Amsterdam News, a black-owned newspaper stated this decision as “ the greatest victory for Negro people since the emancipation proclamation “(Patterson). Abraham Lincoln had already freed slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 but particularily with regard to education, this barely helped them at all. At this point in history according to Patterson “ it was clear that ‘separate’ by no means meant ‘equal’”(Patterson). This ruling completely changed everything for the African American people. What is Brown v. Board of Education anyway? Well, in 1951 the parents a black third grader Linda Brown tried to enroll her in a white elementary school, but was she was denied. So her parents went to the NAACP to as for help and they gladly accepted the challenge. At first the NAACP tried to resolve this matter in the state courts, but it eventually made it all the way to the Supreme Court. Lisa Cozzens stated; “Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children a sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn”(Cozzens). So in 1954 Chief Justice Earl Warren overturned Plessy vs. Ferguson and declared that segregated schools were deemed unconstitutional. “The white kids were going to have a chance to become Galileos and Madame Curies and Edisons and Gauguins, and our boys (the girls weren’t even in on it) would try to be Jesse Owenses and Joe Lousises”(Angelou 179).

“We were maids and farmers, handymen and washerwomen, and anything higher that we aspired to was farcical and presumptuous”(Angelou 180). Before this ruling, Maya was in a separate school for black people. They technically had equal facilities to those of the white children, but in reality it didn’t even come close. The white school was getting brand new equipment and better teachers; while the black school might only get a new baseball diamond. The white people only saw the black children as being future athletes and nothing more. As Maya stated there were nothing more than “maids and farmers.” But Brown v Board of education would change all that. This ruling would make it so that children both white and black would have the same amenities and the same chances to become something in their lives. Black children were given the opportunity to be in the same school as the white kids and have the same facilities and teachers. They were given a fighting chance to succeed and make something more of themselves in their lives. This ruling opened all new doors for black children and would help these kids reach new heights, heights that in a million years these kids never dreamed they could reach. Works Cited "Maya Angelou Biography." Maya Angelou A Global Renaissance Woman (2011): Web. 9 Jul 2011. . Angelou, Maya. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. New York: Random House, 1970.

Corbould, Clare. "Streets, Sounds and Identity in Interwar Harlem." Journal of Social
History 40.4 (2007): 859-94. Print. Angelou, Maya. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. New York: Random House, 1970.

Roucek, Joseph S. "American Japanese, Pearl Harbor and World War II." The Journal of Negro Education 12.14 (1943): 633-49. Print.

Wilkerson, Isabel. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration. New York: Random House, 2010. Print. Cozzens, Lisa. "Early Civil Rights Struggles: Brown v. Board of Education." Www.watson.org. 29 June 1990. Web.


Patterson, James T. "Brown v. Board of Education." America - Engaging the World - America.gov. 03 Apr. 2008. Web. <http://www.america.gov/st/educ-english/2008/April/20080423213855eaifas0.6193506.html>. "Joe Louis Biography (1914-1981)." Full Issue. Web. 17 Jul 2011. <http://www.fullissue.com/index.php/joe-louis-biography-1914-1981.html>. "Japanese Internment Camp Activities." Oracle ThinkQuest. Web. 17 Jul 2011. <http://library.thinkquest.org/04apr/00065/internmentact.htm>. "Brown v. Board of Education Second Round." New York Times. Web. 17 Jul 2011. . "Brown v. Board of Education." YouTube. Web. 17 Jul 2011. . "Brown v. Board of Education." YouTube. Web. 17 Jul 2011. . Jessica Bonnin, Bridgid Hurley, Michelle Leonard, Meghan Vismara
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