Maya Angelou Becomes First Black Woman Honored on New Quarter

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American poet Maya Angelou quarter. | Image from United States Mint

The United States Mint issued a new quarter on Monday featuring American poet Maya Angelou. Angelou is the first Black woman to be featured on the quarter as a part of the American Women Quarters Program. The program was created to feature notable women who have contributed to American history.

Four more quarters will be distributed in 2022, depicting Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, Asian American actress Anna May Wong, Cherokee Nation leader Wilma Mankiller, and suffragette and politician Nina Otero-Warren.

In a statement from the Mint, Deputy Director Ventris C. Gibson stated, “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.”

While George Washington’s profile is still featured on the “heads” side of the coin, the “tails” side features Angelou with her arms spread and a bird behind her as an homage to her famous poem, “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.”

“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,” Secretary of the Treasury Janet L. Yellen said in a separate statement.

The American Women Quarters Program was championed by California Representative Barbara Lee, who introduced the Circulating Collectible Coin Redesign Act of 2020, which was passed into law in January 2021.

Rep. Lee tweeted on Monday in celebration of the distribution of the Maya Angelou quarter, writing, “Excited to announce that today, Maya Angelou becomes the first Black woman to appear on a U.S. quarter! The phenomenal women who shaped American history have gone unrecognized for too long—especially women of color. Proud to have led this bill to honor their legacies.”

Before selecting the women who would be featured on the quarters, the Mint offered the public a chance to nominate women they would like to see honored on the commemorative coin. The Mint considered any American woman known for her excellence in the arts, science, civil rights work, or other areas. The requirement included women with “ethnically, racially and geographically diverse backgrounds,” and prospects would have to be deceased.

The American Women Quarters Program will continue its release honoring American women through 2025.

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