Maya Angelou, who was born in St. Louis in 1928 and grew up against the backdrop of the Jim Crow South, went on to lead what seemed like infinite lives. She became San Francisco’s first black female street-car conductor at age 16; studied dance with Martha Graham; became a calypso dancer; traveled the world during the 1950s in a production of Porgy and Bess; and, of course, went on to be a world-renowned poet, author, activist, and scholar. She was a contemporary of Martin Luther King Jr. and Oprah, the recipient of both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Arts. And though Angelou’s influence spanned generations of black history, she never forgot the roots that inspired her cultural, academic, and political work.
She touched all corners of culture and history — who doesn’t remember the first time I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings or “And Still I Rise” entered their consciousness? Angelou, who died today at 86, lived a life so full it spanned six volumes of a memoir, but, as she once said, “life loves the liver of it.” What more would you expect? Click through our slideshow to see highlights of her inspiring life.