Poet Maya Angelou may already have a dizzying list of accomplishments but there is none more surprising to be revealed as her stint as a streetcar conductor in San Francisco.
In an interview with Oprah, Angelou was just 16 years old and still in high school when she decided to pursue the position. The uniforms caught her eye and she soon went to apply for a job.
Though many women worked as streetcar conductors, at the time none of them were women of color. Angelou was denied an application, but that didn’t stop her from soldiering on. With her mother Vivian Baxter’s encouragement and suggestion, Angelou says she sat in SF’s transit office every day for two weeks. She would arrive earlier than the secretaries and wouldn’t leave until after they had gone for the day.
“They laughed at me, they pushed out their lips and used some negative racial things,” but she persisted.
It was that determination that got Angelou the job, she says. Baxter acted as a strong support system once Angelou got the job, waking her up at 4 AM every day of work with a bath already drawn.
She’d drive Angelou to the streetcar and then follow its full route with a pistol as her copilot just in case anything happened.
“She would follow the streetcar all the way from the beach down to the Ferry Building, right through San Francisco, and back again until daybreak.”