A four-page fill-n-the-blanks handout in which your students will analyze the structure, themes, and imagery of Angelou’s poem “My Arkansas. Published in 1978, when the poet was fifty, this brief, three-stanza, 21-line poem examines the racial progress of the state where she spent a part of her childhood.
Amazingly in just a few images Angelou captures the essence of the two “old crimes” (line 3) committed against blacks: the over two-hundred years of “Ante-bellum” (line 16) slavery followed by almost one-hundred years of Jim Crow second-class segregation.
Angelou ends her poem by stating that while some racial progress has been made, there still remains some vestiges of prejudice, called“Old hates” (line 15), and thus “Today [the day of racial equality] is yet to come / In Arkansas” (18-19).
A two-page Answer Key, which begins on a separate page, follows the student handout.
After it I have included five pages of notes to the teacher, including (1) details of Angelou childhood/early-teen years in Arkansas taken from her acclaimed autobiography, I Think I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings; (2) how she, who was born Marguerite Annie Johnson, got the name Maya Angelou; (3) her involvement with the Civil Rights movement and her deep friendship with both of its diametrical opposed leaders, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X; and (4) discussions of historical matters incorporated into “My Arkansas”: slavery in America, lynching of blacks, and Jim Crow Laws.
The student handout is suitable as an in-class activity or for homework.
Prepared by Professor William Tarvin, Ph.D., who has published many articles on literature in scholarly journals.