May 31


Maya Angelou illustration final 120

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Maya Angelou – A Unique Personage In The Black People’s Struggle (1) By CAMERON DUODU

May 31, 2014

Cameron Doudu

Maya Angelou, the American writer whose sad death at the age of 86, occurred on May 28, 2014, was a unique personage who, for half a century, straddled the struggle of the Black people to achieve respect and dignity not only in her country, the united States, but also, across the world.

That struggle – and her ambition to educate her only son, Guy, in an African country — brought her to Ghana’s shoresin 1962. She had intended to leave Guy in Accra and travel on to Liberia to work forthe Ministry of Information there. But a motor accident in which her son was involved, kept her in Ghana.

I suspect that the accident was some sort of blessing in disguise, for Ghana was very seductive then, to people of her background.

Our President, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, was acknowledged, world-wide, as The Black Liberator Supreme; a man who not only gave military training and financial assistance to African freedom fighters, but also assisted independent African states in financial straits, such as Guinea (£10m or about $140m in today’s money) and Mali (£5m or about $70m) in today’s money.

Black Americans were immensely attracted by the idea that there was an African leader who thought beyond his own frontiers and considered himself the liberator of all Black people on earth. They concluded from his actions in Africa that Dr Nkrumah, having himself been educated in the United States and been subjected to racial discrimination, would support their civil rights movement.

They were not wrong. In 1961, Dr Nkrumah brought the foremost Black intellectual in the US, Dr W.E.B.Du Bois, to Ghana to direct the production of an Encyclopaedia Africana, which would

document all knowledge about Black people – their history, culture and political — in one academic oeuvre that would be easily accessible to both scholars students and ordinary folk.

Now, Du Bois was an unreconstructed socialist and, as such, had been haunted by the US Government for years, especially during the years of McCarthism.

(His passport was withdrawn for eight years, because he had the audacity to visit The People’s Republic of China and other countries which the citizens of the country that called itself leader of ‘The Free World’ were forbidden to practice their free dom of choice and visit!) With the arrival of Du Bois in Accra, Black militants from America began to trickle in, following his footsteps.

Among them was a novelist called Julian Mayfield (author of  The Hit and other novels) who had been a close associate of Robert Williams, author of Negroes With Guns (who had had to flee to Cuba after being put on an FBI ‘WANTED’ list for activities relating to the armed self-defence of Blacks threatened by Ku Klux Klan would-be lynchers in Monroe, North Carolina.) Mayfield became one of Dr Kwame Nkrumah’s speech writers, and worked at Flagstaff House under Dr Kwame Nkrumah’s Chief Press Officer, Mr W Y Eduful.

Mayfield’s wife was a Puerto Rican doctor called Analivia Cordero, who worked at the James Town Clinic, in Accra, where my mother-in-law, Mrs Stephens, was Matron. Analivia got to know from the Clinic that I was editor of Drum Magazine, and guessing that her husband would like to meet me, invited me to dinner.

Julian Mayfield and I hit it off like bees and honey: for about 4 years, there was never a week when we didn’t spend many hours together, drinking Club beer and talking about all the myriad things young men exchange information about.

He even bought a sports car, a Triumph Spitfire, mainly, I suspect, because I drove a Sunbeam Alpine, and two of my closest friends, Fifi Hesse (Austin Healey Sprite) and Peter Dorkenoo (Austin Healey 3,000 and Triumph TR 4A) were also perched on horses that made quite a bit of noise when called upon to gallop fast! Regrettably, and most unfortunately (as far as Analivia was concerned) Julian also became infected with the bug that convinces the Ghanaian male – most irrationally, I must emphasise – to consider himself in possession of a licence to become a polygamist.

Julian met a Ghanaian woman with whom he fell in love! He was so protective of that relationship that he never allowed me to meet the lady!

Anyway, I was visiting Julian one day when a tall, statuette African-American woman came calling. It was Maya Angelou! Striking though her appearance was, it was her smile – and her voice – that were the most notable things about her. Her voice was a mixture of the usual American nasal twang and an unusually melodic Southern drawl. The seductive thing about it was that it was both deeper and lower than one usually associated with a woman’s voice. And uunlike most Americans, she spoke with an accent that was easy to comprehend. It was also a strong voice, so that even when she seemed to whisper in a conspiratorial tone, one could hear every word she said quite clearly.  And could she laugh!  These qualities of her voice had enabled her to become both a professional singer, and an actress. In Accra, she practised journalism –writing for T D Baffoe, editor of The Ghanaian Times, and for Julian Mayfield, on a journbal he was editing from Flagstaff Housde called The African review.

Well, when Julian introduced me to Maya, she breathed my name out in a manner that expressed both surprise and subtle interest; it was the sort of inflexion of the voice that I would have wished to hear if, in my dreams, Ella Fitzgerald had ever been inclined to sing my name out in veiled admiration.

I wasn’t surprised that she seemed to admire Yours Truly, for I’d been writing impassioned pieces, illustrated with dramaticpictures, about what was happening in Little Rock Arkansas and elsewhere;how Governors Bull Connor and Orval Faubus were unleashing dogs and water hoses on our brothers and sisters, the Black protesters,  in their racist states.

And since news about the African-American struggle were largely absent from the rather dull and parochial Ghanaian media of the time,  my writing stood out and African-Americans who met me often expressed appreciation for my humble efforts.

(To be continued)


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