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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou

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Chapter 27

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 27 of Maya Angelou's autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings | Chapter 27 | Summary



With the start of World War II, prejudice against those with Japanese ancestry created major changes in San Francisco's communities. The Japanese disappeared from their businesses and neighborhoods as they were sent to internment camps. Soon, the many shops and restaurants run by Japanese immigrants were replaced by businesses run by Southern African Americans. "The Japanese area became San Francisco's Harlem in a matter of months." California's factories that supplied the war effort recruited African American workers from the South. The Southern African Americans for the first time had jobs that paid enough for them to purchase goods and services and rent apartments. There's little concern for the displaced Japanese.

With so many new people moving into the expanding African American neighborhood, and the sense of pulling together brought about by the war effort, Maya begins to feel a sense of belonging for the first time. The city represents beauty and freedom to her. Yet Southern whites as well as African Americans are brought in to work in the war plants, and the racial tension between them comes along, too.


After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese citizens and those of Japanese ancestry were forcibly removed from their homes and businesses and were relocated to internment camps where they were imprisoned and forced to live apart from society during wartime. The prejudice shown against the Japanese must have felt familiar to African Americans, yet those in San Francisco were so focused on the opportunity to move ahead that they offer no sympathy.

Although Maya mostly speaks of her excitement in this chapter, she does provide one story that points to the old specter of racism which always brings her down. She observes a white woman who will not sit next to an African American on a bus. Perhaps to disguise her prejudice, the woman refers to him as a "draft dodger." It turns out that the man is a war veteran who has lost his arm defending the country.

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