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What Terrified Maya Angelou In The Wake Of 9/11

Longing for justice is one thing, she said. Lusting for revenge is another.

Everyone remembers where they were the moment they learned of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. They remember the horrific images of the towers collapsing, the overwhelming mix of emotions and the initial thoughts that all centered around one big question: What does this all mean?

Dr. Maya Angelou was no exception. The late poet, author and activist was in New York City during those tragic events, and she spoke about her experience six months later, after taping an episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show." In that post-show moment, Dr. Angelou shared the candid thoughts she had after the two full planes intentionally crashed into the towers that weekday morning.

"I first thought that was an errant small plane that had lost its way. But when the second one hit, I thought, 'Terrorism.' And I thought of the people there, in the building, and then I thought of the people in the plane: those who caused it and those who were just hapless victims," Dr. Angelou said back then. "I thought of all of that in a matter of a minute."

When her thoughts finished racing, Dr. Angelou said her mind then jumped to the immediate future. "I thought, 'Retaliation -- oh my, God, what is what going to bring us? What will we do? How far will we go?'" she said.

"I was afraid we might start to lust for revenge, and THAT is terrifying." Dr. Maya Angelou

That's when Dr. Angelou says she began to talk about the need to seek after justice -- but with a clear understanding of the dangerous line that shouldn't be crossed.

"We read that in Deuteronomy, we read it all throughout the Bible, to long for justice," she said. "I was afraid we might start to lust for revenge, and that is terrifying."

At that point, it was up to the country's leaders to keep justice, not revenge, at the forefront, Dr. Angelou added.

"We have to have men and women who speak the words -- the 'go,' 'stop' words -- who are fearless. Because in order to say those words, they may have to go against the wishes of their own... group," she said. "But they have to have that much courage."

It was a critical turning point for the nation, and Dr. Angelou also saw it as a moment when certain people would step up and distinguish themselves as fearless, thoughtful and wise.

"We'll see the difference between men and males, and women and females," she said. "There's a world of difference... not just some old, powerful males and old, powerful [females]."

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