The late American poet and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou has become the first African American woman to be commemorated on a US quarter dollar coin, with The United States Mint beginning circulation of the coins this month.
Best known for her 1969 memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou is portrayed on the coin with her arms outstretched in front of a rising sun and a bird in flight.
“Each time we redesign our currency, we have the chance to say something about our country — what we value, and how we’ve progressed as a society. I’m very proud that these coins celebrate the contributions of some of America’s most remarkable women, including Maya Angelou,” said Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.
“Maya Angelou … used words to inspire and uplift,” added Mint Deputy Director Ventris Gibson.
Angelou is the first in a group of women to be immortalised in this way, with the American Women Quarters Program set to also include Sally Ride, the physicist and educator who made history in 1983 when she entered space on the shuttle Challenger, following NASA’s policy change to allow women in space in the late 1970s. Other honourees include Wilma Mankiller, Adelina Otero-Warren and Anna May Wong.
The American Women Quarters program was authorised by the Circulating Coin Redesign Act of 2020, initiated and championed by California Democratic Representative Barbara Lee.
“I wanted to make sure that women would be honoured, and their images and names be lifted up on our coins. I mean, it’s outrageous that we haven’t,” Lee said. “Hopefully the public really delves into who these women were, because these women have made such a contribution to our country in so many ways.”
For each year of the program, five new quarters will be created. By 2025, 20 women will be commemorated.