Maya joins Gabo and Mandela. Is Maradona next? Barbara Walters? Or will it be Fifo’s turn?
Yet another celebrity admirer of Fidel Castro has passed away.
Good luck finding anything negative in her obituaries about her love of tyrants, or her support of their regimes.
But here’s the unvarnished truth: In the early 1960s, Angelou praised Fidel Castro and expressed support for his links to the Soviet Union. Fidel returned the favor: Her first published story appeared in the Cuban propaganda rag Revolucion.
In September 1960, she was thrilled by Fidel’s visit to New York, and by his embrace of the Soviet dictator Nikita Krushchev. Here is how she described her encounter with her heroes.
You can find this text in The Collected Autobiographies of Maya Angelou (Random House, 2012), p. 711-712.
The Harlem Writers Guild meeting at Sarah Wright’s house was ending. As we were saying goodbye, Sarah’s phone rang. She motioned us to wait and answered it. When she hung up she said excitedly that the Cuban delegation led by President Fidel Castro had been turned out of a midtown hotel. The group was accused of bringing live chickens into their rooms, where they were to use them in voodoo rites. The entire delegation had been invited to stay at the Teresa hotel in Harlem.
We all shouted. Those few writers and would-be writers who were not members of Fair Play for Cuba nonetheless took delight in Castro’s plucky resistance to the United States.
In moments, we were on the street in the rain, finding cabs or private cars or heading for subways. We were going to welcome the Cubans to Harlem.
To our amazement, at eleven o’clock on a Monday evening we were unable to get close to the hotel. Thousands of people filled the sidewalks and intersections, and police had cordoned off the main and side streets.
I hovered with my friends on the edges of the crowd, enjoying the Spanish songs, the screams of “Viva Castro,” and the sound of conga drums being played nearby in the damp night air.
It was an “olé” and hallelujah time for the people of Harlem.
Two days later, Krushchev came to visit Castro at the Teresa. The police, white and nervous, still guarded the intersection of 125th Street and Seventh Avenue, which even in normal times was accepted as the most popular and possibly most dangerous crossroad in black America.
Hazel, Millie and I walked down a block from the office, pushing through the jubilant crowd. We watched as Castro and Krushchev embraced on 125th Street, as the Cubans applauded and the Russians smiled broadly, showing metal teeth. Black people joined for the applause. Some white folks weren’t bad at all.
The Russians were O.K. Of course, Castro never had called himself white, so he was O.K. from the git. Anyhow … as black people often said, ‘Wasn’t no Communist country that put my grandpappa in slavery. Wasn’t no Communist lynched my poppa or raped my mamma.’
‘Hey, Krushchev. Go on, with your bad self.’