The 20th century was a time of tremendous social change as people began to question, and then challenge, the hierarchical concepts which had previously shaped the social order. From the suffragettes of the early 20th century to the mid-century Civil and Women’s Rights movements to the LGBT activism of the late 20th century ideas about who should have power, and why, have changed in ways that our great-grandparents would probably have struggled to imagine.
As a Black woman, Maya Angelou (1928-2014) not only lived through many of these changes, she experienced them intimately. Her experiences found expression in her poetry, and ‘Still I Rise’, with its tone of defiance and hope, and yet absence of overt hostility, has earned its place as a 20th century classic.
You may write me down in historyWith your bitter, twisted lies,You may trod me in the very dirtBut still, like dust, I’ll rise..Does my sassiness upset you?Why are you beset with gloom?’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wellsPumping in my living room..Just like moons and like suns,With the certainty of tides,Just like hopes springing high,Still I’ll rise..Did you want to see me broken?Bowed head and lowered eyes?Shoulders falling down like teardrops,Weakened by my soulful cries?.Does my haughtiness offend you?Don’t you take it awful hard’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold minesDiggin’ in my own backyard..You may shoot me with your words,You may cut me with your eyes,You may kill me with your hatefulness,But still, like air, I’ll rise..Does my sexiness upset you?Does it come as a surpriseThat I dance like I’ve got diamondsAt the meeting of my thighs?.Out of the huts of history’s shameI riseUp from a past that’s rooted in painI riseI’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,Welling and swelling I bear in the tide..Leaving behind nights of terror and fearI riseInto a daybreak that’s wondrously clearI riseBringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,I am the dream and the hope of the slave.I riseI riseI rise.