By Olivia Allen-Price and Mina Kim
Poet and author Maya Angelou spent many formative years in San Francisco after moving here with her family from Arkansas. She studied drama at the California Labor School and, as a teen, was among the first black females to work as a streetcar conductor. She even produced and narrated a documentary series for KQED in 1968 called “Blacks, Blues, Black!”
Veteran KQED journalist Belva Davis was a good friend of Maya Angelou. The two met decades ago, as Davis’ career was just beginning in news reporting. Of the many memories the two shared, Davis fondly remembers the parties Angelou would throw with another Bay Area friend, writer Jessica (Decca) Mitford. Angelou easily slipped into the role of hostess.
“They would come dressed to the nines to their own party with handbags and sometimes even a glove in hand. They would walk around as if they were an invited guest,” said Davis. “They said they were [an invited guest] by then because they had already done the work.”
Over the years, Davis would often turn to Angelou for advice, particularly on her career as a journalist. A shy person by nature, Davis was empowered by Angelou to be proud when she had done good work.
“I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without friends like her,” said Davis. “[She was always] telling me the best I could do was the best I could do. When I was doing the best I could do, be happy with that.”
Angelou was also someone to whom friends would turn for advice on their relationships. Davis credits Angelou with helping to guide her to marry her husband, Bill Moore, who she’s been with for 50 years. During their phone calls, Angelou would often ask about Bill, allowing Davis to express whatever was affecting their relationship at the moment.
“When you’re really at the depths of not even being able to express yourself, you almost need a partner, a listener, to help guide you out,” said Davis. “She’s really guided me out of many difficult things.”
When Davis hosted her last show for “This Week in Northern California” 18 months ago, she interviewed Angelou on the importance of friendship. To some, it was an unusual way to cap off a long career in journalism. But for Davis, it was an important tribute to a person who helped her accomplish what she had.
Davis last saw Angelou in April, at the unveiling of Angelou’s portrait at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Despite being in a wheelchair and having recently had a problem with her heart, Angelou commanded the attention of the room with her speech and singing, Davis said. Even in old age, a perfect hostess.