Course Hero. "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Study Guide." Course Hero. 13 Oct. 2016. Web. 17 Feb. 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/I-Know-Why-the-Caged-Bird-Sings/>.
Course Hero. (2016, October 13). I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved February 17, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/I-Know-Why-the-Caged-Bird-Sings/
(Course Hero, 2016)
Course Hero. "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Study Guide." October 13, 2016. Accessed February 17, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/I-Know-Why-the-Caged-Bird-Sings/.
Course Hero, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Study Guide," October 13, 2016, accessed February 17, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/I-Know-Why-the-Caged-Bird-Sings/.
After Maya's grandfather, Mr. Johnson, left Momma "around the turn of the century with two small sons to raise," she married two more times. Her second husband, Mr. Henderson, is something of a mystery. Momma's third husband, Mr. Murphy, visits one weekend when he passes through Stamps. While the rest of the family goes to Sunday church service, Uncle Willie stays at the General Store with him. According to Bailey, Uncle Willie stays home to prevent Mr. Murphy from stealing from the store. Angelou describes Momma as a tall, good-looking woman who exudes power and strength and enjoys leading hymns in the Sunday church service.
Momma tries to instill in Maya and Bailey her philosophy for dealing with white people, which is basically one of avoidance of conflict. She doesn't see this as cowardice so much as being realistic. Momma enjoys pointing out to people that she was "the only Negro woman in Stamps referred to once as Mrs." This came about when a suspect in a court case testified that he took refuge in "Mrs. Henderson's store." The judge requested Mrs. Henderson be brought to court to testify, and when Momma appeared, the white people in the audience were very amused because, according to custom, an African American woman was never called Mrs., but then no one had expected a store owner to be African American.
The time frame of Momma's first marriage means she grew up shortly after the Civil War, during the era when many whites, feeling both politically and economically threatened by the new African American citizens, formed white supremacy groups and brutally enforced segregationist laws and policies. Although African Americans now had rights, there was little official protection of those rights; instead, local laws and social norms were rigged to try to segregate and marginalize African Americans.
The social prohibition against using Mr. or Mrs. when referring to African Americans was one petty way whites tried to assert superiority over African Americans. This is why, in Chapter 5, Maya was so upset that the white girls who taunted Momma called her by her first name. Momma's success as an entrepreneur is partly due to her strategy of being nonconfrontational. Maya's generation—and Angelou herself—would go on to actively pursue and demand their rights as American citizens in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.