At the podium of Coretta Scott King’s memorial, you broke out in song, “I open my mouth to the Lord, and I won’t turn back, no. I will go, I shall go. I’ll see what the end is gonna be.” I sat on my couch, watching the television screen and hummed along. It was easy to follow the tune even though I hadn’t heard it before. It had that familiar, slow earthy drone of a negro spiritual. If you would have tucked your speech in your purse and left the floor humming that tune, the audience would have been satisfied. Today, the day of your passing, it strikes me how the words of the spiritual echoed your own narrative that began so long ago when your personhood was violated and your voice silenced. I read about it in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Reading your story made my story worthwhile. I felt an instant connection between you and me – California girls with Arkansas roots, grandmothers, our rescuers, books, our escape – I finished that book and read the next until I finished the whole series of memoirs. Years later, I picked up your autobiography The Heart of a Woman. My respect for you rose to new heights. I read how you responded to the urgency of the injustices of the time with such force and grace. I felt renewed. Your voice had become a current of change. You had not turned back, Ms. Angelou.
Thank you for living the song you delivered nearly a decade ago when you honored another extraordinary woman who helped move mountains. Because of you, my voice, our collective voices are stronger and louder. I, and countless others, love you for what you have so graciously given to us. I know you are at peace, and I’ll see you after while.
I open my mouth to the Lord, and I won’t turn back, no. I will go, I shall go. I’ll see what the end is gonna be.