Dr. Maya Angelou talked and sang about forgiveness and hope in her keynote address during the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration in Wait Chapel Monday night. “The gift Martin Luther King gave the world is hope,” she said. “Hope that we will come through this.”
Angelou, the Reynolds Professor of American Studies, said, as King preached, we must learn to forgive each other and to forgive ourselves. “People do only what they know, and when they know better, they do better. Forgiveness is a mighty gift.”
Angelou spoke to about 2,000 people from the same stage that King spoke from during a visit to Wake Forest in 1962. Angelou first spoke in Wait Chapel in 1971, and recalled creating a dialogue with white students and Wake Forest professors who would later become her colleagues when she joined the faculty in 1982.
Angelou worked with King in the 1960s as Northern Coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In March of 1968, King asked her to travel the country to raise money to send civil rights supporters to Washington, DC. She promised King she would go, after her birthday on April 4. His assassination on that day left her devastated, she said.
She didn’t speak or leave her apartment in New York City for two weeks. “I was absent from myself,” she said. Shortly after that, she began work on what would become the critically acclaimed “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”
“That book saved my life,” Angelou said. “While I was writing it, I thought about Dr. Martin Luther King’s ability to forgive and I began to forgive others and myself.”
Angelou described ignorance as inherited, saying, sometimes it’s just in the air. “We have to work hard to scrape it off.” Universities and institutions of higher learning “are built just for this,” she said.
For the last 10 years Wake Forest and Winston-Salem State have co-sponsored a keynote address to celebrate Martin Luther King Day, alternating the location between campuses. As part of the celebration, a student and professor from each university is recognized with the Martin Luther King Building the Dream Award.
This year, Angelou received the award, along with senior Mustafa Abdullah and associate professor of sociology Ana-Maria Wahl from Wake Forest, and Jonathan Jackson and professor Nkrumah D’Angelo Lewis from Winston-Salem State University.
Sign up for weekly news highlights.Subscribe