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Maya Angelou stamp unveiled but quote on stamp isn’t hers

WASHINGTON — Postmaster General Megan Brennan was joined by first lady Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Ambassador Andrew Young and other notables Tuesday in dedicating the Maya Angelou Forever stamp.

The first-day-of-issue stamp dedication ceremony was held at the Warner Theatre.

Also attending the ceremony was civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton and Atlanta-based artist Ross Rossin, whose portrait of Angelou was used for the stamp.

As an author, poet, actress and champion of civil rights, Angelou was one of the most dynamic voices in 20th-century American literature. The book, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” an autobiographical account of her childhood, gained wide acclaim for its vivid depiction of African-American life in the South.

However, the stamp features a quote that has long been attributed to Angelou, but actually was written by Joan Walsh Anglund.

“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song,” appears in Anglund’s 1967 book “A Cup of Sun.” The pronouns and punctuation were changed, with “he” in the original verse changed to “it” on the stamp, the Washington Post reported.

A spokesman for the Postal Service defended the use of the quote on the stamp, saying it had been widely attributed to Angelou.

“The Postal Service used her widely recognized quote to help build an immediate connection between her image and her 1969 nationally recognized autobiography, ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,’” spokesman Mark Saunders said.

The agency hasn’t said whether it will reissue the stamp with a different quote.

After the Postal Service was informed that Anglund had confirmed the quote was hers, the spokesman said in an email to the Post that “Had we known about this issue beforehand, we would have used one of [Angelou’s] many other works. … The sentence held great meaning for her and she is publicly identified with its popularity.”

President Barack Obama attributed the quote to Angelou in his remarks at the presentation of the 2013 National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal.

“The late, great Maya Angelou once said, ‘A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.’ Each of the men and women that we honor today has a song — literally, in some cases. For others, it’s a talent or a drive or a passion that they just had to share with the world.”

Anglund appeared to take the mishap in stride, saying, “I think it easily happens sometimes that people hear something, and it’s kind of going into your subconscious, and you don’t realize it.

“I love her and all she’s done, and I also love my own private thinking that also comes to the public because it comes from what I’ve been thinking and how I’ve been feeling,” she said.