In 1993, my friend Frances E. Williams introduced me to Maya Angelou when Dr. Angelou was on a book tour. She was speaking at the Aquarius Book Store, the oldest African American bookstore in L.A. owned by Alfred and Bernice Ligon. She was there to promote her book, Wouldn’t Take Nothing for my Journey Now. Whenever Dr. Angelou came to L.A., she made sure her book tours always included a stop at the Aquarius Bookstore not only because she was a friend of the Ligons, but also because it was one of the only black-owned bookstores in the community. Also she would spend time with Frances at her home near Exposition.
Frances and Maya Angelou’s friendship went back years. In 1965 Angelou lived in one of Frances’s duplex apartments on 5th and Exposition. Actress Beah Richards lived in the other. Frances lived in the rear house on the property. “We called it ‘the Compound,”said Frances in her biography*. She had met both Maya Angelou and Beah Richards years earlier.
One day, when I came up to work on her biography, Frances asked me to take her to the Aquarius bookstore to see her friend. I loaded her into my car and when we arrived at the Aquarius, lines were around the corner, the community always turned out to see Dr. Angelou. Spotting Frances, a community activist, whose relationship with Maya Angelou, the Ligons and the bookstore was well-known, security pushed others aside, helped her from my car and whisked her inside. I drove several blocks away to find a parking space; then I walked back. Knowing that I was with Frances, I was ushered in ahead of those waiting and seated beside my friend near the front of the stage. After Dr. Angelou’s talk, Frances introduced me to her and encouraged me to ask her if she’d write the introduction to Frances’s biography. Dr. Angelou graciously accepted my request.
Before the biography was finished, however, Frances died. I tried to contact Dr. Angelou in Winston Salem, N.C. And one day, her secretary called me to say Dr. Angelou could speak to me. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take the call. I made several attempts, but something would always get in the way. During the years that followed, every time I’d hear about Maya Angelou coming to Southern California, I thought about going to see her, not to ask her to write the introduction to the book, it was already published; but just to make contact, to remind her that we’d met and possibly to get an interview with her to tell me more about her relationship with Frances. But alas, I never followed through. Now it is too late. As I listen to the tributes being paid to Dr. Angelou, I think about that missed opportunity.
I’d seen her at Los Angeles City College years earlier. She spoke on the connection between African boys living in Africa and African American boys in the U.S. It was a wonderful and insightful talk. Little did I know that I would later meet this awesome woman. She was a beautiful, gracious lady whose life touched many. Because of Frances, I felt I knew her personally. Her life and work stands as an inspiration to all.
*From Meet it, Greet it, and Defeat it! The Biography of Frances E. Williams, Actress/Activist, by Anna Christian.