Since Dr Maya Angelou’s family announced her death on Wednesday, tributes have poured in for the prolific author whose works include a poem memorialising the life of a fellow civil rights icon – former South African President Nelson Mandela.
The 86-year-old first met Mandela in 1962, when she lived in Cairo and he was on a clandestine trip to London via Africa.
In His Day is Done, Angelou calls the late ANC activist a “wonder of the world”, and a modern-day Goliath.
“Although born into the brutal embrace of Apartheid, scarred by the savage atmosphere of racism, unjustly imprisoned in the bloody maws of South African dungeons.
“Would the man survive? Could the man survive?
“His answer strengthened men and women around the world,” the poem reads.
Published shortly after he died last December, Angelou allowed the US state department to circulate the piece in 15 languages via captioned YouTube videos.
A transcript of a conversation with Richard Stengel, with whom Mandela wrote his autobiography, shows the statesman excitedly recount seeing Angelou recite a poem for President Clinton’s inauguration in 1993.
Asked whether he saw Angelou in Washington, Mandela replies: “Yes. But I didn't meet her – she was far away from me, she was right up at the podium. And after reciting that poem, you remember, Clinton embraced her, kissed her. Then I phoned her – I traced her at her hotel and I spoke to her.”
Mandela then described the pair’s first meeting: “we had arranged that when I come back we should start corresponding, but I was arrested shortly after I had returned.”
His Day is Done (2013)
His day is done.
The news came on the wings of a wind, reluctant to carry its burden.
Nelson Mandela’s day is done.
The news, expected and still unwelcome, reached us in the United States, and suddenly our world became somber.
Our skies were leadened.
His day is done.
We see you, South African people standing speechless at the slamming of that final door through which no traveler returns.
Our spirits reach out to you Bantu, Zulu, Xhosa, Boer.
We think of you and your son of Africa, your father, your one more wonder of the world.
We send our souls to you as you reflect upon your David armed with a mere stone, facing down the mighty Goliath.
Your man of strength, Gideon, emerging triumphant.
Although born into the brutal embrace of Apartheid, scarred by the savage atmosphere of racism, unjustly imprisoned in the bloody maws of South African dungeons.
Would the man survive? Could the man survive?
His answer strengthened men and women around the world.
In the Alamo, in San Antonio, Texas, on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, in Chicago’s Loop, in New Orleans Mardi Gras, in New York City’s Times Square, we watched as the hope of Africa sprang through the prison’s doors.
His stupendous heart intact, his gargantuan will hale and hearty.
He had not been crippled by brutes, nor was his passion for the rights of human beings diminished by twenty-seven years of imprisonment.
Even here in America, we felt the cool, refreshing breeze of freedom.
When Nelson Mandela took the seat of Presidency in his country where formerly he was not even allowed to vote we were enlarged by tears of pride, as we saw Nelson Mandela’s former prison guards invited, courteously, by him to watch from the front rows his inauguration.
We saw him accept the world’s award in Norway with the grace and gratitude of the Solon in Ancient Roman Courts, and the confidence of African Chiefs from ancient royal stools.
No sun outlasts its sunset, but it will rise again and bring the dawn.
Yes, Mandela’s day is done, yet we, his inheritors, will open the gates wider for reconciliation, and we will respond generously to the cries of Blacks and Whites, Asians, Hispanics, the poor who live piteously on the floor of our planet.
He has offered us understanding.
We will not withhold forgiveness even from those who do not ask.
Nelson Mandela’s day is done, we confess it in tearful voices, yet we lift our own to say thank you.
Thank you our Gideon, thank you our David, our great courageous man.
We will not forget you, we will not dishonor you, we will remember and be glad that you lived among us, that you taught us, and that you loved us all.
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