I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

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Bailey is Maya’s older brother, with whom she has a special kind of familial bond. Bailey looks out for Marguerite when they are children, and Marguerite trusts him more than anyone. Bailey’s experiences growing up as a black boy in the south demonstrate the particular challenges and indignities endured by black men in America.

Bailey Johnson Quotes in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

The I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings quotes below are all either spoken by Bailey Johnson or refer to Bailey Johnson. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Race, Inequality, and Identity Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Bantam Books edition of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings published in 1993.
Chapter 4 Quotes

When I was described by our playmates as being shit color, he was lauded for his velvet-black skin…And yet he loved me.

Related Characters: Maya Angelou (speaker), Bailey Johnson
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

The brother-sister relationship between Maya and Bailey is central to this book. In other contexts a passage like this might signal jealousy on Maya’s part; she is treated poorly for her tone of black skin, and Bailey is “lauded” for it. But here, amidst all of Maya’s admiration for and amazement at her brother Bailey, there is little room for jealousy. Angelou uses two very different but equally powerful descriptors for their blackness: “shit color” for her, and “velvet-black” for Bailey.

In these descriptions Angelou unflinchingly takes on the language of her detractors, forcing the reader to feel some of the pain Maya might be feeling. Interestingly, at the end of this passage, Angelou writes: “And yet he loved me.” We might expect it to be the other way around: even though Maya is made fun of for her skin color and Bailey admired or his, she is able to forgive him and love him, and so on. But the fact that Maya feels the need to earn Bailey’s love despite her supposedly “shit color” skin shows us how deep the child Maya’s shame runs.

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Chapter 7 Quotes

Momma intended to teach Bailey and me to use the paths of life she and her generation and all the Negroes gone before had found, and found to be safe ones.

Related Characters: Maya Angelou (speaker), Bailey Johnson, Momma (Annie Henderson)
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

In reading this passage, it helps to have a sense of how ardently Maya Angelou worked, throughout her career, to tell new types of stories about blackness and being black in the United States. This quotation clearly emerges in retrospect, as Angelou reflects on the ways Momma held her and Bailey within the safe confines of relative black success as sanctioned by white society. In this passage we find both sympathy for Momma’s beliefs and a real desire to surpass them, to live radically outside of what could be considered “safe” because it wouldn’t offend any of the power-holding white people on the other side of Stamps and the other side of the country.

Momma wants Maya and Bailey to pray diligently, work hard, respect authority; mostly she wants them to keep their heads down. Angelou ends up doing the opposite, of course, writing and publishing a book about her life in Stamps and beyond. So, in many ways, this book is both an affirmation of Momma’s ways (which are described in detail, with respect for the necessity of survival in a world very dangerous to black women) and a piece of tangible evidence that Angelou has exceeded the bounds placed around her.

Chapter 17 Quotes

The Black woman in the south who raises sons, grandsons, and nephews had her heartstrings tied to a hanging noose.

Related Characters: Maya Angelou (speaker), Bailey Johnson, Momma (Annie Henderson)
Page Number: 114
Explanation and Analysis:

In this startling passage, Angelou ties the common imagery of “heartstrings” to the uniquely black horror of the “hanging noose.” This shift from a universal image to a very particular one conveys the specificity of Angelou’s claim: it is the southern black woman— and these are the three core aspects of Maya’s political reality— who feels this unique pain of knowing that her son, grandson, and nephew could be killed for just about any sort of infraction, legitimate or not, like Bailey’s failure to return home by sundown. Black men are in unique danger, which puts their family members in a unique state of fear. It is tragic then, in a way, to be a black woman— bound to fear most deeply for the ones she loves.

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Bailey Johnson Character Timeline in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

The timeline below shows where the character Bailey Johnson appears in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Race, Inequality, and Identity Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Home and Displacement Theme Icon
Marguerite and her brother Bailey arrive in Stamps, Arkansas when Marguerite is three and Bailey is four. They’d been sent... (full context)
Race, Inequality, and Identity Theme Icon
Sex, Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Marguerite and Bailey’s grandmother, whom they call Momma, has owned a store for 25 years. The store is... (full context)
Chapter 4
Race, Inequality, and Identity Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Bailey, Marguerite’s brother, is the “greatest person in her world.” Where Marguerite perceives herself to be... (full context)
Chapter 6
Race, Inequality, and Identity Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
Home and Displacement Theme Icon
...“preach it!” then rises from her seat, evades the ushers, and pursues the Reverend again. Bailey keeps whispering “preach it!” to Marguerite, and she can barely contain her laughter. Sister Monroe... (full context)
Chapter 9
Family Theme Icon
Home and Displacement Theme Icon
One year later, when Marguerite is seven years old, Daddy Bailey comes to town. He is a huge, exceptionally handsome man with a great sense of... (full context)
Race, Inequality, and Identity Theme Icon
Sex, Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Home and Displacement Theme Icon
...to be the daughter of a woman like that. Shortly after dropping them off, Big Bailey leaves St. Louis to go to California. (full context)
Chapter 10
Language Theme Icon
...fact that the schools in St. Louis are full of relatively uneducated children. Marguerite and Bailey knew how to count because of their work on the register, and they both spent... (full context)
Chapter 11
Family Theme Icon
Home and Displacement Theme Icon
...he tells her that if she ever tells anyone what just happened, he will kill Bailey. Marguerite is frightened, and struggles to understand but agrees to keep the incident a secret... (full context)
Chapter 12
Sex, Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
One afternoon when Vivien and Bailey are out for the day, Mr. Freeman calls Marguerite over to him. She resists—she has... (full context)
Chapter 13
Sex, Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
In the hospital Marguerite says if she tells who attacked her, Bailey will be killed. Bailey tells Marguerite no one can kill him, and Marguerite trusts him... (full context)
Sex, Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Home and Displacement Theme Icon
...It is likely that Vivien’s brothers killed him. Meanwhile, Vivien also decides that Marguerite and Bailey would be better off in Stamps. Marguerite becomes withdrawn and sullen, and believes she is... (full context)
Chapter 15
Race, Inequality, and Identity Theme Icon
Sex, Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Home and Displacement Theme Icon
...for the first time in her life she is liked—not because she is related to Bailey or Momma, but just because she is herself. (full context)
Religion Theme Icon
After this visit, Marguerite comes home and tells Bailey all about it. Then she says “By the way,” and tells Bailey Mrs. Flowers sent... (full context)
Chapter 16
Race, Inequality, and Identity Theme Icon
...the woman. This story is a source of endless entertainment and enjoyment for Marguerite and Bailey. (full context)
Chapter 17
Race, Inequality, and Identity Theme Icon
Sex, Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
One day, Bailey, who has become more surly and unhappy after being sent away from his mother yet... (full context)
Family Theme Icon
Home and Displacement Theme Icon
Later Bailey explains to Marguerite that he’d seen Mother at the movies—a white actress that looked exactly... (full context)
Chapter 21
Sex, Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Bailey, an adolescent now, begins “playing house” with other girls around his age (11 years old)... (full context)
Sex, Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Home and Displacement Theme Icon
Later Bailey proudly tells Marguerite that Joyce has hair between her legs and under her arms because... (full context)
Chapter 25
Race, Inequality, and Identity Theme Icon
Sex, Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Home and Displacement Theme Icon
...to California. Marguerite is fairly certain this decision came about because of an incident involving Bailey. He had been walking home from the movies and had noticed the body of a... (full context)
Race, Inequality, and Identity Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Home and Displacement Theme Icon
...the transportation. She will ride with Marguerite on the train about a month ahead of Bailey, so as to spread out the cost of the tickets. Marguerite knows she will miss... (full context)
Chapter 26
Race, Inequality, and Identity Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Home and Displacement Theme Icon
Momma and Marguerite and Bailey live in Los Angeles together while the children adjust to life in California. Looking back,... (full context)
Race, Inequality, and Identity Theme Icon
Sex, Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Bailey and Marguerite drive to San Francisco with their mother (Vivien). They live in a dingy... (full context)
Chapter 33
Language Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Bailey and his mother’s relationship has become fraught and contentious. They push each other’s buttons and... (full context)
Family Theme Icon
Bailey moves to a motel. After a while, Maya goes to visit Bailey in his dingy... (full context)