Maya Angelou: I Didn’t Even Get a Job Application ‘Because I’m a Negro’

It’s no secret that Maya Angelou is a great chronicler of her own life and often hard times.

And despite the burdens she has borne and oppressions she has met, the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer has always overcome them with dignity and humor.

Case in point, her first job.

CAPTION: “I couldn’t face my mother,” Maya tells us was her impetus for overcoming racism.

“I couldn’t face my mother,” Maya tells us was her impetus for rising above racism.

After her parents split up in 1931, Maya, then three, moved from her hometown of St. Louis to San Francisco with her mother and brother.

Twelve years later, she would break her first racial barrier, by becoming the city’s first black female streetcar conductor.

The road to that achievement, however, was a painful one, as she tells host Judy Joy Jones on this week’s Judy Joy Jones Show.

“I was 15. I had come back from being with my father in San Diego. And I had missed about four weeks of school. But I was ahead, so my mother said I didn’t have to go to school that semester – but I had to have a job,” says Maya, now 80, whose latest book is titled Letters to My Daughter.

“Now, I had seen women on the streetcar in their uniforms with their change belt; you know, that little metal thing – ‘click, click.’ And they had caps with bibs on them.  And they looked so cute.

“So I went down to apply for a job. And I didn’t notice there were no blacks. I just saw women.  But no one would even offer me an application. So I went back to my mother and I was really devastated.

“She asked me, ‘Do you know why?’ I said, ‘Yes, because I’m a negro.’ She said, ‘Do you want the job?’ I said, ‘Yes.’letters-to-my-daughter

“‘Then go get it,’ she said. ‘You be there before the secretaries come in in the morning. And you stay there. And when they go to lunch, then you go to lunch . . . But be back before the secretaries.’

“Well, I did it.  And I’ll tell you, I almost died. Because the girls who worked there were so rude. [But] I sat there.

“So after about two weeks, a man came out of the office [and] asked me, ‘You want to work on the streetcars?’ He asked me what kind of experience I had.

“I lied. I told him I had been a chaufferette by the name of Annie Henderson in Stamps, Arkansas.

“Annie Henderson was my grandmother. I don’t even think she had ever even ridden in a car. They gave me the job, though!”

To hear more life recollections from Maya, click here.

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