Maya Angelou becomes first Black woman to appear on quarter

By David Matthews

The U.S. Mint recently began shipping out a new series of quarters, including ones featuring writer Maya Angelou, making her the first Black woman to ever appear on a quarter.

The new coin is part of the American Women Quarters Program, which will later have coins bearing the likeness of Wilma Mankiller, the Cherokee Nation’s first female chief, Anna May Wong, the first Chinese American movie star, Adelina Otero-Warren, a suffrage movement leader and Sally Ride, the first American woman to go to space.

The Angelou coin has George Washington on one side and shows Angelou with her arms raising up in front of a bird and beams of sunshine. Angelou was a prominent civil rights activist.

The image is “inspired by her poetry and symbolic of the way she lived,” the Mint said.

“It is my honor to present our Nation’s first circulating coins dedicated to celebrating American women and their contributions to American history,” Mint deputy director Ventris C. Gibson said. “Each 2022 quarter is designed to reflect the breadth and depth of accomplishments being celebrated throughout this historic coin program. Maya Angelou, featured on the reverse of this first coin in the series, used words to inspire and uplift.”

Angelou, who gained worldwide fame after the release of her memoir “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings,” died in 2014 at the age of 86. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011 during Barack Obama’s first term.

The new series of coins came about after a 2020 bill co-signed by California Rep. Barbara Lee, Ohio Rep. Anthony Gonzalez and Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer.

“As a leader in the civil rights movement, poet laureate, college professor, Broadway actress, dancer, and the first female African American cable car conductor in San Francisco, Maya Angelou’s brilliance and artistry inspired generations of Americans,” Lee said. “If you find yourself holding a Maya Angelou quarter, may you be reminded of her words, ‘be certain that you do not die without having done something wonderful for humanity.’”

Angelou joins Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea, both dollars, and Helen Keller, Alabama’s quarter, to appear on a U.S. coin. The Treasury is also planning a $20 bill featuring Harriet Tubman in place of Andrew Jackson, but the process was delayed by then-President Donald Trump and it is unclear when the new bills will be printed and circulated.


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