Please forgive me for getting a bit ahead of Ali in her, Meg’s and my readalong of Maya Angelou’s autobiographies: I wanted to get this one read this month so I could add the next one into a couple of challenges, and also I wanted to find out what happened next! Here is Ali’s review.

Maya Angelou – “All God’s Children Need Travelling Shoes”

(April 2021)

The drive was too short to clear my mind. I had never been face to face with royalty and didn’t know the protocol. I suspected that I had been sent for to discuss some incident pertaining to the presence of black American residents, and I was nervous. I knew I was given to dramatic overstatement, or was known to waffle about repetitiously. To further complicate matters, I was sincere. Sincerity badly stated elicits mistrust. (p. 118-9)

In this volume of the autobiography, published in 1986, we spend the whole time with Angelou in Ghana – a country I didn’t know that much about, so very interesting from that perspective, as we do learn something of its history and what it was like in the 1960s. With her son injured in a car accident, she decides not to move on to Liberia as she’d planned, but to stay in Ghana. Here, while Guy integrates into the student population, she becomes part of a group of Black Americans who have moved to Africa, and she has quite a lot to say on the interesting subject of different types of people who have often saved up to ‘return’ to their roots, only to find that they’re not effusively welcomed by the Ghanaian population.

Angelou meets another fascinating big man and my heart sank but this time she seems to have learned a bit and when he proposes a lifestyle and country change to her, to move to Mali and settle in as his second wife, she realises she won’t be able to summon up the requisite meekness and turns him down (and his gift of a fridge!). It is good to see her staying independent and resisting this offer. She also comes into contact with other highly powerful people (well, men) and even kings, which manages to dent even her self-confidence!

Malcolm X comes to visit Ghana and one stage and it’s fascinating to read about his time there, even more fascinating when he encounters a young Muhammad Ali but is snubbed by him as he’s recently split from the Nation of Islam. He’s someone Angelou of course knows from her New York activism times, though she was at that stage on the side of Martin Luther King Jr and his non-violence. But, as they discuss, what has that produced and is it time for more action? By the end of the book, she’s realising she needs more than African can offer her, and needs to be somewhere she fits in better, and is planning to return to the US to work for Malcolm X’s organisation.

While Angelou finds it wonderful to be in countries where everyone, presidents, airline pilots, senior managers, newspaper owners, are of course Black, she also encounters some horrifically racist commentary on Ghana and the Black Americans who live there too from European members of the university she works at for a time. But the common room steward gently gives his own take on the situation after she has embarrassed herself yelling at them intemperately:

He said, ‘This is not their place. In time they will pass. Ghana was here when they came. When they go, Ghana will be here. They are like mice on an elephant’s back. They will pass.’ (p. 58)

Venturing into the countryside alone, Angelou encounters old buildings that were used to hold slaves before they were shipped to America, and she imagines vividly a tableau of enslaved people suffering. She dwells on the possibility of her origins, fearing her ancestors might have been sold by their own people, and finds a weird experience in another village, originally decimated by slavery, where she once again (she’s already been mistaken for two other types of African person) resembles their families and the people remaining very strongly. But, like Alex Haley really found in “Roots”, she can’t know for certain if this is where she came from, although in her case she wasn’t seeking an exact place. It’s a very moving scene, though.

After a brief trip to Europe (and a very upsetting scene for her in Germany) to revisit a play she’d been in, we leave Angelou getting ready to set off back to America. As usual, I can’t wait to know what happens next, and I’m sad there are only two books of her autobiography left to read!

This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Book 2/85 ā€“ 83 to go.