Maya Angelou’s Words That Spoke to All Our Lives

When this wise woman spoke, we listened. Her words on topics ranging from racism to the power of love won’t soon be forgotten. 

Maya Angelou speaks onstage during the 34th Annual AWRT Gracie Awards Gala at the New York Marriott Marquis on June 3, 2009, in New York City.

Jemal Countess/Getty Images

Legendary author, poet and actress Maya Angelou, who passed away Wednesday morning at age 86, will be remembered for her uncommon wisdom as much as for her award-winning writing. Deep insight into the African-American experience and a compassionate perspective—combined with a magical way with words—equipped her to weigh in like no other on what it meant to be black in her lifetime, as well as to provide broad, timeless advice. When this phenomenal woman spoke, we listened. And her words on topics from racism to perseverance to the power of love won’t soon be forgotten.

On Diversity

Honoree Maya Angelou and former President Bill Clinton onstage at the Women of the Year gala, hosted by Glamour magazine, at Carnegie Hall on Nov. 9, 2009, in New York City.

Larry Busacca/Getty Images

"It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength. We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of that tapestry are equal in value no matter their color." Maya Angelou

On the Liberating Power of Love

Maya Angelou attends her 82nd birthday party at her home in Winston-Salem, N.C., May 20, 2010.

Steve Exum/Getty Images

"I am grateful to have been loved and to be loved now and to be able to love, because that liberates. Love liberates. It doesn't just hold—that's ego. Love liberates. It doesn't bind. Love says, 'I love you. I love you if you're in China. I love you if you're across town. I love you if you're in Harlem. I love you. I would like to be near you. I'd like to have your arms around me. I'd like to hear your voice in my ear. But that's not possible now, so I love you. Go.' " Maya Angelou

On the Intensity of Racism

Maya Angelou reads a poem during a ceremony to present Archbishop Desmond Tutu with the William J. Fulbright Prize for International Understanding Nov. 21, 2008, at the State Department in Washington, D.C.

Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images

"The plague of racism is insidious, entering into our minds as smoothly and quietly and invisibly as floating airborne microbes enter into our bodies to find lifelong purchase in our bloodstreams." Maya Angelou

On Becoming Who You Were Meant to Be

Maya Angelou signs copies of Maya Angelou: Letter to My Daughter at Barnes & Noble in New York City Oct. 30, 2008.

Gabriela Maj/Getty Images

"What I think it really means is: I'm a teacher. I am a teacher. I teach all the time, as you do and as all of you do—whether we know it or not, whether we take responsibility for it or not. I hold nothing back because I want to see that light go off. I like to see the children say, 'I never thought of that before.' And I think, 'I've got them!' " Maya Angelou

On Black Survival in America 

Archbishop Desmond Tutu embraces Maya Angelou during a ceremony to present him with the William J. Fulbright Prize for International Understanding Nov. 21, 2008, at the State Department in Washington, D.C.

Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images

"The needs of a society determine its ethics, and in the black American ghettos the hero is that man who is offered only the crumbs from his country's table but by ingenuity and courage is able to take for himself a Lucullan feast. Hence the janitor who lives in one room but sports a robin's-egg-blue Cadillac is not laughed at but admired, and the domestic who buys $40 shoes is not criticized but is appreciated. We know that they have put to use their full mental and physical powers. Each single gain feeds into the gains of the body collective." Maya Angelou 

On Perseverance

Maya Angelou addresses the Democratic National Convention July 27, 2004, in Boston.

Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

"We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated." Maya Angelou

On Healing Society's Scars

President Barack Obama kisses Maya Angelou after presenting her with the 2010 Medal of Freedom on Feb. 15, 2011, at the White House.

Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images

"The love of the family, the love of one person, can heal. It heals the scars left by society. A massive, powerful society." Maya Angelou