Skip to content

And Still I Rise: Remembering Maya Angelou

In the Fall of 2002, SOHP staff members Angela Hornsby and Kerry Taylor conducted interviews that documented the history of African American businesses in Greensboro, North Carolina. This was part of a larger project entitled “Remembering Black Main Streets.”

On 10 September, author and poet Maya Angelou was on hand for the opening of a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop that was intended to anchor the revitalization of East Market Street, which had once been the center of a thriving black business district. After preliminary remarks from Krispy Kreme officials and local civic and business leaders, Angelou offered the following reflections on renewal and redevelopment. She concluded by reciting her poem “And Still I rise.”

Listen to the audio from this event here

mayaLook where we’ve all come from. Yes. Indeed, I honor Michael King and Mrs. King for believing. A man is as good as his woman. A woman is as good as her man. True. True. Neither is better than the other. In truth, neither can really make it without the other. To come so far, you’ve had faith, not only in God, but in each other. This is a blessing. In itself you’ve blessed us all. I thank the Krispy Kreme for having faith. That’s stepping out on the word. When you risked millions and millions of dollars, that means you’re stepping out on somebody’s word. Faith is the evidence of things not seen. Certainly nobody saw that Krispy Kreme would occupy this corner and start the revival of the whole corridor. That is faith.

I honor my sister, always. I honor Johnetta Cole. Johnetta Cole had faith in Spelman. She brought Spelman from a condition almost as bad as Bennett and brought it to number one in its category in the nation. She’s built buildings and built houses and built hearts and built lives. I knew what she could do for Bennett. So I prayed mighty and that right early, and then I phoned her and said, “Sister come up and spend the weekend.” She said, “Oh, my sister. Oh, I don’t know.” [laughter] “Oh girl.” Now you know when a black woman talks to another black woman like that, it’s irresistible. “Girl, come on.” She said, “I’ll be there.” And she is here. All of her is here. I love her because she is so present. Where she is, all of her is there. I’m grateful to God for her sisterhood. I never in my life, I’ve done many things, directing movies and sung songs and conducted the Boston Pops, written books, but I have never opened a doughnut shop. [laughter/clapping/cheering] How to do it with my blessing in a number of languages but in none of the languages could I find any words, any Bartlett quotations which would help me open a Krispy Kreme. But the fact that this is the first African American Krispy Kreme, Reverend King had I been in Hawaii, I’d have come here. This is very important, and it’s not about doughnuts only, Mr. [Scott] Livengood. It’s not just about doughnuts. It’s about all these folks, these small people, their tomorrows. These young women, the Belles, we forgot them. [clapping] And we forgot their parents and then the grandparents and then the great grandparents who had the dream to have a hundred businesses in this corridor. It’s about them too. So I look at this and before I, I suppose I figuratively am supposed to cut a ribbon, but I want to say one poem. Everybody in the world has gone to bed one night or another with fear or pain or loss or grief, trepidation, and yet each one of us has awaken, arisen seen another human being and said “Morning. How are you? Fine, thanks and you.” There is that about us all that we rise.

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise. [cheering/clapping]

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
Just because I walk as if I have oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like suns and like moons
With the certainty of tides
Just like hope springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head, lowered eyes
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my sassiness upset you. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha.
Don’t take it so hard
Just because I laugh as if I have gold mines
Digging in my own back yard.

You can shoot me with your words,
You can cut me with your eyes,
You can kill me with your hatefulness,
But just like life, I arise.

Does my sexiness offend you? Aw.
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance as if I have diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak miraculously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the hope and the dream of the slaves.
I am this corridor, here, in Greensboro
Watch me rise. [cheering/clapping/general din]

Thanks to Kerry Taylor for compiling this.