Maya Angelou

On only two occasions have incoming presidents asked poets to grace their inaugurals: John F. Kennedy asked Robert Frost to compose a poem for his inaugural, and thirty-two years later, Bill Clinton, a great admirer of Kennedy, invited Maya Angelou to read a poem at his swearing-in ceremony. Angelou, a black woman poet, symbolized one of the themes of Clinton's inaugural, the notion of an inclusive America in which all people, regardless of their race, color, creed or ethnic origin, would be valued members of the society.

The notion is not new, and one can find the theme in the works of colonial writers such as Hector de St. Jean Crevecoeur. But where he and others spoke primarily of white migrants from western Europe, today democracy talks about internal as well as external groups, people who have been here but have long been excluded from full and equal participation in society, such as women, Native Americans, African Americans and other minority groups.

Angelou's poem is not only a work of art, but also a political document, one that perfectly captured a particular moment in American society when a new effort was being launched to fulfill an old dream of a society of men and women, of all colors and beliefs, treating each other with dignity and equality.


(Poem omitted due to copyright restrictions)

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