Marianne Fry sent a compelling email to me about Maya Angelou.
She recalled reading Angelou’s book, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” to her grandmother in a Springfield, Mo., nursing home. “She loved Maya and how much Maya spoke to her,” Fry, of Portland, Ore., said when we talked by phone.
Angelou’s death on May 28 made Fry ask why she wasn’t in the state Capitol’s Hall of Famous Missourians. Angelou was born in St. Louis on April 4, 1928, and lived in that city off and on as she grew up. It was in St. Louis that she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. She testified against him in a trial, but then her attacker was found beaten to death in an alley. The shock prompted the girl to stop talking in public for several years. Missouri was the root of the pain that caused Angelou to bury herself in books, develop a love for the language and emerge a literary and intellectual giant.
“I could not believe Maya Angelou was not included” in the Hall of Famous Missourians, said Fry, a Missouri native. She isn’t alone in asking and making formal requests to House Speaker Tim Jones for Angelou’s inclusion in the hall.
“I think it’s a no-brainer, especially when we include people like Rush Limbaugh,” said Rep. Brandon Ellington, a Kansas City Democrat who also is vice chair of the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus. “This is something that the speaker should not hesitate to do.”
The hall got a lot of attention in 2012 when then-House Speaker Steve Tilley chose controversial and conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh for the hall.
Other famous Missourians in the hall include author and satirist Mark Twain; former President Harry Truman; musicians Scott Joplin and Charlie Parker; Hallmark Cards founder Joyce C. Hall; dancer and singer Josephine Baker; TV newsman Walter Cronkite; American Royal founder Tom Bass; actresses Ginger Rogers and Betty Grable; Negro Leagues Baseball great Buck O’Neil; and scientist George Washington Carver.
Angelou would fit in this famous group. She recited the poem, “On the Pulse of Morning,” at the 1993 inauguration of President Bill Clinton. Such a thing hadn’t occurred since Robert Frost did so in 1961 at President John Kennedy’s inauguration.
Angelou’s awards include the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, and the coveted Spingarn Medal from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She rose from poverty to write plays, books, screenplays, poetry and television scripts.
Angelou worked as a singer, dancer, actress, producer, director and lecturer. She inspired audiences, including at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and William Jewell College.
“She has done a lot for us,” said Rep. Tommie Pierson, a North St. Louis County Democrat who also is president of the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus. “We just think she deserves” to be in the Hall of Famous Missourians. “We are going to ask the speaker to give her that honor.”
Trevor Fox, House communications director, said Angelou’s name has come up repeatedly in the past. When she was alive, she may have even declined an offer.
Fox said it may not be possible to get Angelou into the hall under Speaker Jones. Normally speakers induct two persons in their term; Jones has added four. Private funds have to be raised to make a bust of the person.
Pierson said if the current speaker is unable to get Angelou in the hall, then lawmakers will appeal to the next speaker.
Rep. Kimberly Gardner, a St. Louis Democrat, said she hopes Angelou can be added to the hall in 2015.
“She led a fruitful life,” Gardner said. “She gave a lot to everyone. I believe she should be in the Hall of Famous Missourians.”
Senate Minority Leader Jolie Justus said, “I can’t think of a more fitting honor.”
If enough people write to the speaker of the House, it can happen.