GREENSBORO, N.C. — The International Civil Rights Center and Museum would not be complete without words from Dr. Maya Angelou. That’s as true today as it was when the center opened in 2010.
Angelou, an award-winning author, renowned poet and civil rights, died on Wednesday.
She was 86-years-old.
Amelia Parker, a founding member of the museum, said the world benefited from the teachings of Dr. Angelou.
“She took it upon herself to nurture and mentor, and felt this was her calling to be of service to the nation. There will be a big hole in the Triad,” Parker said.
Parker said she has considered Dr. Angelou a friend since the 1970s. They met in Washington D.C. when Parker worked in the Jimmy Carter administration. When Parker was asked to lead the museum she leaned on her friendship to help form one display.
“I consulted with her on the exhibition and the selection of the individuals you see here,” Parker said, pointing out one section that pays tribute to athletes, actors and musicians who pushed through despite prejudice.
Before visitors see that display they pass a poem of Angelou’s entitled “Still I Rise.”
“I selected that title for this exhibit principally because all these stars and athletes and others who rose above some of the worst insults that you can experience,” said Parker.
Dr. Angelou was proud of the museum. She brought a group of 100 people to the International Civil Rights Museum back in 2010.
“She is a mother to so many, including myself. A treasure for this country,” said Parker.
Dr. Angelou’s list of friends is as impressive as her illustrious career. Talk show queen Oprah Winfrey referred to her as “sister friend.” She counted Rosa Parks, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., with whom she worked during the civil rights movement, among her friends. King was assassinated on her birthday.
In an interview with CNN in January 2009, just days before President Obama was inaugurated for his first term, she gave her thoughts about the United States’ election of its first black president.
“It was as if someone in the outer sphere said, ‘What can we do to really show how important Martin Luther King was?’”
Seeing Obama about to take office made her feel proud, she said.
“I’m excited. I’m hopeful. I’m talking all the time to people, and sometimes I’ve really said it so many times I wonder if I’m coming off like a piece of tape recording, but I’m very proud to be an American.
“In 30 or 40 years, [the election] will not be considered so incredibly important. … There will be other people in those next three or four decades who will run for the presidency — some women, some native American, some Spanish-speaking, some Asian. We’re about to grow up in this country.”
Then Angelou spoke in the way that she came to be famous for, each sentence a crescendo of emotion, a call to everyone to act and to be better.
“Our country needs us all right now to stand up and be counted. We need to try to be great citizens. We are necessary in this country, and we need to give something — that is to say, go to a local hospital, go to the children’s ward and offer to the nurse in charge an hour twice a month that you can give them reading children’s stories or poetry,” she said. “And go to an old folks’ home and read the newspaper to somebody. Go to your church or your synagogue or your mosque, and say, ‘I’d like to be of service. I have one hour twice a month.’”
CNN contributed to this report.