Maya: I was afraid to tell my mother that I wasn't as strong as she thought I was. So I sat there for two weeks. Finally a man came out of his office and said, "Come in." He asked me why I wanted the job. I said, "I like the uniforms and I like people." And I got the job.
Oprah: What's amazing about this story is that your mother, knowing you were a 16-year-old on a streetcar, followed you—
Maya: At about 4 in the morning, she'd wake me up with a bath already drawn. She'd drive me out to the beach, where I'd meet the streetcar. And she'd follow it right through San Francisco until daybreak with her pistol on the passenger seat.
Oprah: That's a mother.
Maya: She was a mother.
Oprah: So as we list all your achievements, the first black streetcar conductor—I'll give that to you, and not the man who passed for white—recipient of 70 honorary degrees, author of more than 30 books, is there anything you wanted to have on that list but didn't get a chance to do?
Maya: Well, one of the things I wanted was to have a daughter. I have a son, who is my heart. A wonderful young man, daring and loving and strong and kind. I wanted a daughter. So I've taken people's daughters. I have certainly taken you. I took my daughter-in-law. Because I know I'm a good mother.
Oprah: Do you know what your greatest gift to me is?
Oprah: It's that every one of us who considers ourselves to be your daughter or your son—we all think we're the most special. So when I'm sitting with someone else who says, "Oh, Auntie Maya," and they're acting like they're the favorite, I'm like—"Excuse you!" I remember when Gayle's mother passed and I spoke at her funeral, each of the sisters said, "We thought we were her favorite." That's the gift that a mother can give, to make everyone feel like they are the special one.
Maya: And you know you really are.
Oprah: [Laughs.] Thank you for that. I want to talk more about your book, because I know what your mother—and I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Vivian Baxter myself before she passed away [in 1991]—meant in your life. You know, the greatest of all the stories I've heard about her over the years or read in this book is the one about the man you were dating who picked you up at work and kidnapped you—tell that story.
Maya: Well, he picked me up and drove me out to an area near San Francisco called Half Moon Bay. He asked me to get out of the car, and I did.
Oprah: You'd been dating him for a while.
Maya: Yes. And he was really wonderful, I thought. So I assumed we were in a romantic place out by the bay and so forth. And then he hit me with his fist.
Maya: He had been a prizefighter. So he hit me. Beat me. And I would go unconscious and then come to, and he would—he had a big plank, and he'd hit me again. The next thing I knew, I was in the back of his car. He drove to a restaurant called Betty Lou's Chicken Shack and called some men over. He said, "This is what you do to a B who is cheating on you." And the people looked, and they went and told Miss Betty Lou, "This man has your friend's daughter in the back of his car. We think she's dead." Well, Miss Betty Lou called my mother, who went to her pool hall and got two of the brawniest—
Oprah: She owned the pool hall, right?
Maya: She owned it. She got the baddest and most scarred-up people she could find. Then she found where the man lived, and she knocked on his door.
Oprah: How long had you been there?
Maya: Two or three days. He'd taken me back to his house. I couldn't even sit up—my ribs were broken. I couldn't call anyone. I had no breath. I prayed. Then suddenly I heard loud shouting in the hall, and my mother said, "Break this S.O.B. down. My baby's in there." And the two huge men broke down the door, and my mother walked in and saw me and fainted because I looked so—well, my teeth had gone through my lips.
Next: The shocking thing Vivian did next