On slow days, the House of Representatives names post offices. These are typically boring days, and each name is unanimously voted “yes.”
On Tuesday, March 1, nine Republican representatives voted against naming a post office after Maya Angelou. Angelou, who died in May 2014, was a renowned poet and civil rights activist, and her voice has had an immeasurable influence on American society. Before her death, Angelou wrote seven autobiographies, 17 books of poetry, two cookbooks, seven children’s books and seven plays. This is before including her countless essays and speeches.
To say this is ridiculous is an understatement. The same day, a different post office was renamed “Medal of Honor” unanimously. Congressmen rarely debate or discuss these name changes in any significant manner. Mississippi’s own Steven Palazzo voted “no.” Six of the nine representatives were from Southern states.
The congressmen who have given statements — Congressman Mo Brooks (AL) and Congressman Andy Harris (MD) — shared similar reasons: Angelou was a communist sympathizer. Despite the Cold War being more than 20 years snuffed, an incredibly influential woman was opposed because of her communist leanings.
I don’t particularly care that Angelou was a communist or a communist sympathizer. Any support she had for Fidel Castro was her own, and I don’t believe one potentially problematic opinion destroys her glorious and historically important identity. I don’t base my approval of an individual on McCarthy-era communist-hating. While modern communist governments have been overwhelmingly negative, I do not find her support an indictment of her character.
I do care that this woman changed the American literary world. I care that she spoke openly as a civil rights activist and met with other leaders who also contributed to changing America.
Congressman Steve Israel of New York said, “The fact that these nine Members would cast a no vote shows a blatant disrespect and only adds to the damaging actions they’ve taken this year to reverse progress from long and hard fought civil rights battles.”
Voting “no” on an Angelou post office ignores her historical significance and work promoting social justice and civil rights. The past several years have been rife with racial tension, but this isn’t because the United States has a black president who is hell bent on causing a race war, despite what some GOP politicians believe. It’s because our social environment has finally become a place where protest and activism can thrive against injustice that’s existed since the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964.
Her life was filled with tales of injustice based on her gender and race. In this poignant time of much-needed social change, these nine congressmen have cemented their place on the side of social ignorance.
– Holly Baer