(Attorney and former Circuit Court Judge D’Army Bailey, a civil rights activist, author and actor, attended the memorial services for Dr. Maya Angelou, along with his wife, Adrienne Bailey. This is his special account.)
Dr. Maya Angelou was memorialized Saturday (June 7th) at Wait Chapel on the campus of Wake Forest University with full recognition of her broad political and literary influence across the globe. A diverse crowd from across the country, and some from abroad, filed in under the banner hanging at the chapel front featuring a picture of Dr. Angelou and the words “A Celebration of Rising Joy.” Inside, abundant long stemmed white lilies flowed from large vases and white roses formed a broad ribbon in front of the podium.
On display were massive black and white photographs of Angelou in her younger years, of President Obama placing a medal around the seated Angelou’s neck, and of a graceful and spiritual older Angelou accompanied by the phrase: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Among those paying respects were Attila Shabazz, daughter of Malcolm X, gospel singer Bobby Jones and his choir, Michael Eric Dyson, Bernice King, daughter of Dr. King, Elaine Steele, former aide to Rosa Parks, Adrienne Bailey, Belva Davis Moore, first major black woman broadcaster in San Francisco, India Arie, Julianne Malveaux, Attorney General Eric Holder and Donna Brazile.
During the service President Bill Clinton spoke of Dr. Angelou’s perseverance and poetic resonance. Valerie Ashford Simpson sang; Andy Young talked of his great admiration and Cicely Tyson spoke of their decades long friendship and spiritual bond.
First lady Michelle Obama told the crowd that ordinarily her mother doesn’t try to tell her what to do but on learning of Dr. Angelo’s death said to her daughter, “I know you’re going to the service.” The first lady replied, “I don’t know, I’ll have to see what my schedule looks like” and her mother responded, “I know you are going!” Mrs. Obama said she was pleased to learn soon after that she had been scheduled to attend.
In her remarks Mrs. Obama saluted the vast influence and example Angelou set for black Americans, young and old. She was followed by Oprah Winfrey, who spoke of her long and close friendship with Maya. Winfrey spent several days in North Carolina leading up to the service, planning and setting up things, working with Dr. Angelou’s aides and her son, Guy Johnson.
The night before the memorial a cocktail buffet was held at the estate of longtime Angelou friend, E.C. Hanes of Hanes underwear, a company founded by one of the leaders of the North Carolina eugenics and sterilization movement. An invitation only repast followed the chapel service, with plentiful buffets, open bars, and foot stomping entertainment by Shirley Caesar, India Arie and Bebe Winans.
There were some shortcomings. I was a friend and strong admirer of Dr. Angelou, most importantly for her leadership in civil rights, and as an inspiration to a generation of activists, outspoken entertainers and black political leaders. Yet few from those worlds were included in the service or attended the activities.
What I will remember most about her is her giving spirit. She was always willing to help someone or some cause she thought worthy. In my last political race for judge in 2006 she campaigned for me in Memphis at her own expense and told her audience:
“All those years ago, while D’Army Bailey was a Councilman in the City of Berkeley – the truth was, for all intents and purposes, he was the Mayor of Berkeley. The real mayor was D’Army Bailey. And when issues arose which questioned the right for black people, and white people, gay people and straight people, fat people and thin people and pretty ones and plain – D’Army Bailey was always on the right side. He was there without fear or favor, with a loud mouth, for those for whom there were very few platforms, for those who didn’t have someone to speak for them. And I fell for him then. I have been in his camp ever since.”
There will be other memorials to come – this weekend in San Francisco, and later in New York, Washington, and possibly Memphis. And so there will be time for others to salute, and the public to be more personally involved in tribute, as the world continues to sketch out the further dimensions of this great woman.