Personal Heroes of Black History Month: Inauguration Poets Maya Angelou and Amanda Gorman

Patrick Semansky-Pool/Getty Images

February was Black History Month in the United States and March is Women’s History Month worldwide. To honour and celebrate Black American women I know or admire, I am sharing a series called Personal Heroes of American Black History. Please join me in this celebration.

January 20, 1993

Twenty-eight years ago, I was home sick from school and watching television. The television I selected was the inauguration of William Jefferson Clinton, 42nd President of the United States of America.

The ceremony felt long to my 13 year old self and I remember my attention starting to drift until a striking Black woman took the podium and captivated me with her words. This woman was Maya Angelou and the words were her poem, ‘On the Pulse of the Morning.’ I was absolutely transfixed and can still hear her beautiful, deep, lyrical voice reading words written specifically for that time.

What I didn’t know was that Maya Angelou was the second poet to ever read at an inauguration, the first being Robert Frost at JFK’s ceremony — but to me, a young girl, poetry always belonged at such an event because of Ms. Angelou’s presence.

January 20, 2021

Nearly 30 years later, I am at home in London with my British-Jewish husband, Anglo-American toddler, and his Swedish au pair. We are globalisation personified. It is our son’s dinner time and so we granted special dispensation for him to watch the ceremony live while eating his supper.

I wept tears of gratitude and sadness through the ceremony, relief and shame at the past four years oozing out of me. Then Amanda Gorman stepped up to the podium and recited the poem she wrote for the inauguration. A poet friend of mine said it best: it was almost like Ms Gorman reinvented language itself, her words were so fresh.

Alongside the words spoken were the non-verbal messages telegraphed out for those who could see them. Ms Gorman’s jewellery were gifts from Oprah, who also gifted Ms Angelou the pieces she wore at the same podium 28 years earlier.

And what a gift to us, these two women. Poetry will always belong.




American immigrant in the U.K.

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Recommended from Medium

‘Secrets of Saqqara Tomb’ Netflix Documentary Review — theclockworkreader

How Each Country Celebrates Valentine’s Day

Remembering The Race Massacres: The Many White People Killed by Black Mobs For Years

Fish & Blood: The Price Gloucester Paid For Its Fishing Legacy — Part II


Myth-Busting Anatomy of Oscar Wilde and Shahrukh Khan.

Rohrabacher Rewind: He’s Even Stranger than You Think

Standing at the crossroads of history: Bessarion’s donation and the Marciana Library

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Leslie Hitchcock

Leslie Hitchcock

American immigrant in the U.K.

More from Medium

Mending Psyche against the daunting Stigma surrounding Mental Health

but “Where are you really from?”…

The Thing about Lipsticks

Sustainability: An Optimist’s Journey