TIME Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou’s Arkansas: Dignity and Poverty in the Depression

African American Young cotton picker, Arkansas, circa 1935
A young African American Young cotton picker in Arkansas during the Depression. Buyenlarge/Getty Images

A Depression-era photo from Arkansas puts into extraordinary relief the life Maya Angelou led, and the distance she traveled in her time

Born in St. Louis, Mo., on April 28, 1928, the author Maya Angelou grew up in Stamps, Ark., witnessing the racial disharmony that defined the Jim Crow American South of her youth. There she cultivated the dignity and her own brand of quiet strength that would mark her writing and her activism for the rest of her life.

The picture above, of a young African-American cotton picker in an Arkansas field in the mid-1930s, is the sort of tableau that Angelou would certainly have encountered throughout her time in the South: namely, a child in rags, put to hard work at a tender age. The idea that this might well have been Maya Angelou’s fate — and that it was the fate of countless others — puts into stark relief the life she led, and the distance she traveled.

 

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