Thursday, February 23, 2012

Inside the House of Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou in her heavily restored Harlem house.

Poet, educator, author, playwright, activist,historian, producer, actress, director Dr. Maya Angelou is one of the most renowned and influential voices of our time.

Born Marguerite Johnson on April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri and raised in Stamps, Arkansas. Here Maya Angelou experienced the brutality of racial discrimination, but she also absorbed the unshakable faith and values of traditional African-American family, community, and culture.

As a teenager, Dr. Angelou’s love for the arts won her a scholarship to study dance and drama at San Francisco’s Labor School. At 14, she dropped out to become San Francisco’s first African-American female cable car conductor. She later finished high school, giving birth to her son,Guy, a few weeks after graduation. As a young single mother, she supported her son by working as a waitress and cook, however her passion for music, dance, performance, and poetry would soon take center stage.

Maya Angelou's five-volume autobiography commenced with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings in 1970. The memoirs chronicle different eras of her life and were met with critical and popular success. Later books include All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes (1986) and My Painted House, My Friendly Chicken and Me (1994). She has published several volumes of verse, including And Still I Rise (1987) and Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou (1995). Her volume of poetry, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'Fore I Die (1971), was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

Maya Angelou currently owns three homes. One in Winston-Salem, the other two are townhouses in Harlem New York. Maya Angelou has lived in New York many times. She has had apartments in Brooklyn and on Central Park West and Riverside Drive. But in 2003 she decided it was time to buy a brownstone in Harlem. It was to be a retreat from her full-time residence, an 12-room house in Winston-Salem, N.C. This is a neighborhood where ravaged brownstones bought for $67,000 in 1996 sold for $500,000 in 2004. Maya Angelou's property is worth well over $3.4 million today.

Maya Angelou wanted a space in which to entertain her legions of friends in New York. Unlike most second-home owners, she was looking for a getaway to the city, not from it. And she soon found it. This was the first and only house she looked at in Harlem. A four-story brownstone Built in 1881, the house is nearly 4,000 square feet and sits on a historic block of 120th Street in the Mount Morris Park neighborhood, the most-sought-after area in Harlem. It took a gut renovation to turn the shell into the stunning, high-ceilinged home it is today, with five bedrooms, three full bathrooms and two half bathrooms. Her Harlem home is largely decorated with objects of art from Africa and works that reflect the experiences of African-Americans.

Her front parlor is vivid and a little larger than life. Oversize armchairs and couches are upholstered in raw silk in shades of lime, tangerine, cherry, grape and bright yellow. The grouping gives new meaning to the phrase eye candy. It is said that Maya Angelou wanted this room to look like a bowl of summer fruit. The dining room is behind the parlor, dominated by a round glass-topped table that seats 10 in bright red lacquered chairs. Painted clouds drift overhead on the light blue ceiling.

At the back of the house is the breakfast nook. It is sunlit and painted marigold with terra cotta-colored trim. An elegant stairway arises from the front entryway that carries you directly to Maya Angelou's blue master bedroom. On the top floor are a laundry room and the two other bedrooms.

Inside, eye-catching artifacts of rarer quality are on display everywhere. They vary from luminous paintings of African women ferrying babies in slings to charming drawings of little African-American girls wearing yarn ribbons in their hair, resembling illustrations from the 1950s. African masks, quilts, photographs and sculpture sit on tables, hang on walls, line stairways. Collages by Phoebe Beasley are scattered through the rooms.

Her Harlem house is much more than a vacation place or a simple change of scenery. It’s a true second home. In a article written about Maya Angelou's Harlem home she states, “I never agreed with Thomas Wolfe. I never thought you can’t go home again. I’ve been coming home to Harlem for 50 years.”

Maya Angelou’s words and actions continue to stir our souls, energize our bodies, liberate our minds, and heal our hearts.

I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.
-Maya Angelou


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The House of Hattie McDaniel

I thought I would finish this black history month with a week of some of the famous African Americans that have become historic figures in America.  Also getting a glance at what their homes where like when they were at their prime.

Hattie McDaniel

Hattie McDaniel was the first African-American actress to win an Academy Award. She won the award for best supporting actress for her role of Mammy in Gone with the Wind a film from 1939.

Hattie McDaniel was born June 10, 1895, in Wichita, Kansas, to former slaves. She was the youngest of 13 children, here she grew up to become one of the most controversial and historic figures of film.

In McDaniel's time, America was segregated in virtually every respect in terms of race. Hollywood was not color blind and relegated black performers to strictly subservient roles where they played maids, butlers and dim wits that were superstitious and un-educated. McDaniel infused her subservient roles with a bombastic personality that she enhanced with impeccable comic timing. Despite her success she was not without her critics.

The NAACP charged her with degrading herself and her race to which she responded “I would rather play a maid and make $700 than be a real one for $7.” The NAACP’s remarks started a contentious debate over whether McDaniel was a trial blazer or merely perpetuating racial stereotypes.

Despite others thoughts the academy award winning actress broke the color barrier in film, and covenant laws, to buy her house on Harvard Blvd. in West Adams. In the heart of what was Sugar Hill on Harvard. When McDaniel started making good money she, along with other wealthy African American entertainers and business people bought homes in the spacious and tidy neighborhood known as West Adam Heights. In 1938, old colonial mansions in Los Angeles, California ranges from $15,000 and up.

McDaniel had purchased her white,sprawling two-story, seventeen-room mansion in 1942. The house included a large living room, dining room, drawing room, den, butler's pantry, kitchen, service porch, library, four bedrooms, and a basement. McDaniel had a yearly Hollywood party in what was know as Sugar Hill.

Hattie McDaniel's house on Harvard Blvd. in West Adams where she through yearly Hollywood party.


Hattie McDaniel's in her house holding her Oscar,she won the award for best supporting actress for her role of Mammy in Gone with the Wind a film from 1939.