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Free Study Guide for I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings: Book Summary

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Momma has had three husbands: Mr. Johnson, who is the children’s grandfather; Mr. Henderson; and Mr. Murphy. When Mr. Murphy passes through Stamps, he will usually come and stay with Momma. She, however, does not really trust him. She has Willie watch him closely to make certain that he does not steal anything from the store.

Momma strives to teach Bailey and Maya practical advice about living. She teaches them to be proud of who they are and the color of their skin. She also warns the children that whites should be spoken to with respect, if spoken to at all.

Many years before, an incident happened in Stamps that is still talked about. A black man, who was being hunted down for assaulting a white woman, takes shelter in Momma’s store. When he is apprehended and taken to court, he tells the judge about taking refuge at Mrs. Henderson’s store. Momma is subpoenaed. When she arrives in court, she introduces herself as Mrs. Henderson. The judge, bailiff, and the audience laugh at her, amazed that a black woman would call herself "Mrs." Amazingly, however, the white people in Stamps still refer to Momma as Mrs. Henderson. She is the only black woman called "Mrs." by them


This chapter is Maya’s tribute to her grandmother. It is exclusively devoted to Momma and highlights an incident that has made her a legend in Stamps. Some of her history is disclosed, including her marriages and her code of living alongside whites. But it is the story of her court appearance that makes the chapter memorable.

The legend centers around the seemingly absurd notion that a black woman warrants enough respect to be designated "Mrs.". When Momma arrives in court, the unfamiliar judge and bailiff are startled to see that the "Mrs. Henderson" mentioned is a black woman. But from then on, all the white people in Stamps call her "Mrs." As a result, the black people look at her with new respect.

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I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou: Free BookNotes

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