Obama, Arkansans pay tribute to Maya Angelou


LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Mike Beebe, President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton were among those who paid tribute Wednesday to Maya Angelou after learning of her death at 86.

“Maya Angelou will always remain an Arkansas and American treasure,” Beebe said in a statement. “She drew from a troubled and painful childhood to write books and poems that have inspired countless others. From Stamps, Ark., to the steps of the U.S. Capitol for President Clinton’s inauguration, Maya Angelou showed how strength, determination and honesty can take us all to the heights of greatness.”

The author of “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and numerous other works, Angelou died Wednesday at her home in Winston-Salem, N.C.

She was born in St. Louis but spent part of her childhood in Stamps, to which she returned in 1982 with Bill Moyers for an episode of his television series “Creativity.”

Clinton said in a statement Wednesday that he will always be grateful to Angelou for the “electrifying” reading she gave of her poem “On the Pulse of the Morning” at his 1993 inauguration.

“With Maya Angelou’s passing, America has lost a national treasure; and Hillary and I, a beloved friend,” Clinton said. “The poems and stories she wrote and read to us in her commanding voice were gifts of wisdom and wit, courage and grace.”

Obama, who presented Angelou with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011, said in a statement Wednesday, “A childhood of suffering and abuse actually drove her to stop speaking — but the voice she found helped generations of Americans find their rainbow amidst the clouds, and inspired the rest of us to be our best selves. In fact, she inspired my own mother to name my sister Maya.”

U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., said Wednesday, “My prayers go out the family, friends, and loved ones of Dr. Maya Angelou … Dr. Angelou’s childhood in Stamps helped shape her outlook on life, as well as her future music, literature and poetry. Our state and nation will be forever grateful for her courage, talent and impact on our world.”

U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, tweeted, “Deeply saddened to hear of the death of @DrMayaAngelou who spent part of her childhood in Stamps, Ark. May she rest in peace.”

State Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, vice chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas, said Wednesday, “Angelou was a symbol of strength in the face of insurmountable odds as she spoke bravely about growing up in the Jim Crow South and turned her painful experiences into beautiful poetry and prose. A civil rights activist, author, poet, journalist, Maya Angelou seemed to succeed at almost every endeavor she undertook, but what is most impressive was her ability to survive ‘with grace and faith.’”