“We want to reach a time when there won’t be Black History Month, when black history will be so integrated into American history that we study it along with every other history,” she said in an interview from her home in Winston-Salem, N.C., on Wednesday. “That’s the hope, and we have to continue to work until that is true, until that becomes a fact.”
In the meantime, she said, she will continue to put the history out there.
Angelou is hosting an hour-long syndicated radio special on the civil rights era that will air throughout this month on about 200 public radio stations across the country. Her special features Grammy award-winning singer Mary J. Blige, Democratic Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, economist and Bennett College President Julianne Malveaux, and professor Nikky Finney, winner of the 2011 National Book Award for poetry.
Angelou, 83, said she hopes the program sends a message that “the work of making our country more than it is today” is unfinished.
“Our work still remains and we have to do the best we can do,” she said. “The young people have a charge to keep, they have responsibility and some don’t know that, or maybe some have heard it but don’t recognize it.”
The program details Lewis’ work as a Freedom Rider, Finney’s tribute to late civil rights activist Rosa Parks, Young’s rise from small-town pastor to ambassador and Malveaux’s involvement with the Black Panther movement in her youth.
The work and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. are also discussed in detail. Angelou, who vocally denounced a truncated inscription of a King quote at his new memorial in Washington as taking the slain leader’s words out of context, said she was pleased to hear it will be changed by the National Park Service.
That decision, she said, showed that the park service had “the courage to say, ‘Hmm, thank you for correcting me.'”
“The artists the sculptor and the architect had the right to put on their work what they wanted to place,” Angelou said. “I am a friend of Martin Luther King and a mentee and so I had the right to say what I thought. That’s all. And I’m glad that it will be rearranged.”
Blige, younger than Angelou’s other guests, speaks of how she was inspired by female civil rights figures Coretta Scott King, Ruby Dee and Angelou herself.
“She’s just as charming as I would wish for a daughter of mine to be and just as dedicated to her field, and to be the best she can be,” Angelou said of the singer. “Young people fascinate me, so I try to stay in current with what they’re doing and what they’re saying.”
Angelou, who has authored more than 30 books and earned three Grammys for the spoken word, recently was presented with the BET Honors Literary Arts Award by first lady Michelle Obama and entertainers Cicely Tyson, Queen Latifah, Jill Scott and Willow Smith. The awards show will air on Black Entertainment Television on Feb. 13.
“My heart almost burst when Mrs. Obama came out and spoke so highly of my work and what it had meant to her and President Obama over the years,” Angelou said.
The famed poet also quelled controversy after she expressed her disappointment in rapper Common using profanity, namely the n-word, and the b-word in reference to women, on his current album released in December, which features Angelou on the intro “The Dreamer.”
Angelou says she doesn’t support use of those words, but she still respects the rapper.
“I said I’m disappointed, but on the other hand, he’s a fine artist and a good man as far as I can see,” she said.
“So he uses the word this week. Maybe next week he won’t, and I’ll be smiling widely.”