CIty's First Black Streetcar Operator: Maya Angelou

Famed woman of American letters was also pioneering Muni conductor.

By Chris Roberts
|  Tuesday, May 14, 2013  |  Updated 8:04 PM PDT
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Robert Redford Finds Brave New Voices in San Francisco

Would you believe -- a streetcar operator at 16?

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Before she was a poet, before she was a doctor, before she was a legend.

Maya Angelou was a streetcar operator in San Francisco -- the first black person to hold the position, according to the San Francisco Appeal online newspaper.

Angelou, 16 at the time, was enamored with the transit agency's uniforms. So she applied for a job, but was denied because she is black, she told Oprah Winfrey in a recent interview.

But under the guidance of her mother, she persisted -- she showed up to the offices of the agency every day for two weeks until she got the job.

And her mother still helped her: she'd wake her up for work at 4 a.m., drive her to the transit terminus -- and then drive behind the streetcar "with her pistol on her lap" to make sure nothing went awry, Angelou said.

Read: How Dr. Maya Angelou Became San Francisco's First Black Streetcar Conductor

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