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Maya Angelou

Though best known for her poetry and storytelling, Maya Angelou was also a civil rights activist, educator and Hollywood's first black female director. Despite being subjected to abuse, violence, and racism growing up, the talented writer slowly began to make her voice heard. She joined the Harlem Writers Guild in the late 1950s, when she had the opportunity to hear Martin Luther King, Jr. speak.

Inspired by his words, she bravely joined the civil right movement and got to work for Dr. King himself. She worked with two presidential committees but in 2010, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the U.S., by President Barack Obama. Angelou was awarded over 50 honorary degrees.