On the Quarter and a Quarter Acre and in AWF history

Maya Angelou speaks at 1998 Numbers Too Big to Ignore luncheon

Twenty five years ago, in 1998, at just the second Numbers Too Big to Ignore luncheon we were honored to have Dr. Maya Angelou as our keynote speaker.  In her address, Dr. Maya Angelou encouraged women, girls and all people to be the composers of their lives. This 1998 luncheon marked a significant passage for AWF.  This was the year AWF became an independent foundation changing our name from the Women’s Fund of The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta to The Atlanta Women’s Foundation.

Maya Angelou’s ties to Atlanta had been established in the early 1960s when she met the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference as a coordinator in the civil rights organization’s New York office. Always involved in the civil rights struggle, she worked with both King and Malcolm X. In 1970, when Andrew Young made his first run for Congress, Angelou offered to come down for a fundraiser. She gave a speech connecting Young’s election to the continuation of the civil rights struggle. Young lost the election. But his friendship with Angelou endured.

When Angelou’s grandson, Colin Johnson, attended Morehouse College in the 1990s, Angelou bought a home here so he could spend weekends there with her and his friends. She’d come to Atlanta to write. She’d come here to rest. She’d come here to take care of family. Even as her health began to deteriorate and she used an oxygen tank to help her breathe, Angelou continued to visit Georgia.  Her passing was not an occasion for sadness, Andrew Young said, calling her one of the most vivacious people he’d ever known.  

As news spread about her death in 2014, The King Center issued a statement:

“Our nation and world have lost one of the great Renaissance women of this, or any age, Maya Angelou… A prodigious writer, artist and thinker, Maya Angelou was also a woman of matchless compassion and an eloquent humanitarian activist and champion of the poor and oppressed of all nations. She supported Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and served the Civil Rights Movement as a fund-raiser and SCLC organizer. She was also a very close and trusted friend to Founder Mrs. Coretta Scott King… Maya Angelou leaves a great and memorable blessing in the hearts of the millions whom she touched with her artistry; and, she leaves behind a luminous vision of hope that will inspire millions more for generations to come.”

Maya Angelou on 2022 quarter

In a striking contrast to her image on the quarter in 2022, Maya Angelou was featured on a larger-than-life art piece in Atlanta’s Freedom Park — a portrait of renowned poet and activist Maya Angelou, with the words “And Still I Rise” printed below. The large-scale project was remarkable in both size — sitting on a quarter-acre — and in method, as it’s made entirely of natural materials like grass clippings, wood chips, dirt, rocks and sand.

The artist Stan Herd was drawn to Atlanta for a third installation following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade. Herd wanted to design a public art piece to advocate for women’s rights. Known as a powerful activist, Angelou felt like the right subject to represent Herd’s call for freedom.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

Maya angelou, “caged bird”

“Women’s rights around the world have been under attack, historically, forever. There have been great strides in the U.S. until just a year or two ago when, suddenly, women’s rights are being taken away,” Herd said. “Women and female minorities in the U.S. are at the greatest disadvantage, and we thought [Angelou’s] voice, her message, her life, her beautiful spirit spoke directly to that.”

Because the portrait is built entirely from organic materials, the work is inherently impermanent — a key component of many of Herd’s pieces. He sees this approach as a sign of respect for Mother Nature, using the Earth as a backdrop while not permanently altering the landscape.   We think she would appreciate this piece. 

View drone footage at https://www.fox5atlanta.com/news/artist-creates-massive-tribute-to-maya-angelou-in-freedom-park