Maya Angelou Home Could Become an Empathy Museum for Caged Birds

PETA Exhibit Would Tell Visitors Why the Caged Bird Sings—and Suffers

For Immediate Release:
March 24, 2017

Sophia Charchuk 202-483-7382

Now that Maya Angelou‘s childhood home in St. Louis is in the process of being sold, PETA has sent a letter asking the real-estate agent handling the property, Tyler Olsen, about the possibility of converting the home into an empathy museum for caged birds. There’s currently one offer on the property, and the group wants to be in line if it falls through.

In the letter, PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to abuse in any way”—notes that Angelou committed her life to advocating for the rights of the oppressed and that once-free living birds kept as caged “pets” are denied the opportunity to satisfy their essential needs to fly and live in family groups. Instead, they’re often trapped alone inside small prisons for life, sometimes for decades. Parrots, for example, are highly intelligent and need adequate mental stimulation throughout the day. When caged, they scream and often mutilate themselves, plucking out their feathers to the point of causing bloody sores, in an attempt to relieve their mental anguish.

“As Maya Angelou observed, ‘[N]o one of us can be free until everybody is free,’” says PETA President Ingrid Newkirk. “A PETA museum in this great artist’s childhood home would encourage justice and freedom for all, including lonely birds trapped inside cages and denied the life that God and nature intended.”

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PETA’s letter to Olsen follows.

March 24, 2017

Tyler Olsen

RE/MAX Results

Dear Mr. Olsen,

I’m writing on behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and our more than 5 million members and supporters worldwide, including many across Missouri, to learn more about the property listed for sale at 3130 Hickory St. in St. Louis. Given that this is Maya Angelou’s former home, we’re interested in the possibility of converting it into an empathy museum for birds who are caged as “pets”—something that Angelou well understood is wrong—and for all other animals denied their liberty for human entertainment or other reasons.

I’m sure you’re familiar with her coming-of-age memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and her life’s work of advocating for the rights of the oppressed. She’s known for saying, “The truth is, no one of us can be free until everybody’s free.”

Birds, like all wild animals, are born to be free. In their natural habitats, many species of birds mate for life and share parenting tasks. As social animals who crave companionship, they fly together in flocks. They are never alone and will cry out frantically for their friends if separated for even a moment. But birds exploited by the pet trade are torn away from their homes and families and sold, while those bred in captivity are crammed by the hundreds inside sheds, barns, and garages and forced to mate over and over again so that breeders can sell their babies to pet stores. Just like puppy mills, bird mills breed misery and disease.

We know why the caged bird goes crazy. Condemned to solitary confinement in a cage, birds become neurotic and self-destructive, pulling out their feathers, repeatedly bobbing their heads, pecking frantically at the bars of cages, shaking or even collapsing from anxiety, and calling out to birds who aren’t there. Our empathy museum will remind visitors that life in captivity is frequently a death sentence for caged birds and other animals exploited by circuses, zoos, and other such attractions.

By turning Angelou’s childhood home into an empathy museum that would foster respect for other individuals, we’d be able to continue her effort to inspire countless people to keep striving for justice and freedom for all. Would you please let us know if the current offer falls through so that we can discuss this subject further? Thank you in advance for sharing your thoughts on this matter.

Very truly yours,

Ingrid E. Newkirk


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