Sadly, the great poet, author and activist Maya Angelou – born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1928 has passed. She opened the Transatlantic Slavery gallery (predecessor to the International Slavery Museum) in 1994. Tony Tibbles, who later became the Director of the Merseyside Maritime Museum, worked closely on the development of the groundbreaking gallery and wrote an interesting article on how it came to be. He notes how they persuaded Maya Angelou to attend the opening and indeed we still have a plaque in our collection which marks this unique event.
The International Slavery Museum has continued the association with leading civil rights activists by having Harry Belafonte and the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr as Honorary Patrons and inviting Diane Nash in 2009 and Martin Luther King III (eldest son of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr) in 2012 to give the annual Slavery Remembrance Memorial lecture. Nevertheless, it was Maya Angelou who really helped give the Transatlantic Slavery gallery an international profile and as a result Liverpool’s attempt at documenting, amongst other things, its role in the enslavement of Africans.
There are many poignant books and poems by Dr. Angelou but I feel that that the poem 'Still I Rise' in particular resonates with the ethos of the International Slavery Museum by exclaiming the “courage of the human spirit over the harshest of obstacles.” In her life she overcame many obstacles, many of which were described in her memoir 'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings', which charted the racism she and her family suffered in the American South of the 1930s. She was an inspiration to many and we are proud here in Liverpool that she associated herself with the Transatlantic Slavery gallery; proving how significant its opening actually was. I think the opening lines to 'Still I Rise' are a reminder of the power of her words and are a fitting legacy to her talent:
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.