Maya Angelou Becomes First Black Woman on U.S. Quarter
Keep an eye out for Maya Angelou on your quarters: The iconic poet and author has officially become the first Black woman to appear on a United States quarter as of this week.
On Monday, the quarters with the activist’s visage went into circulation. The imagery is of Angelou with her arms outstretched while a bird flies across a rising sun behind her. On the other side of the coin is the portrait of George Washington that many have come to recognize on the quarter. A report in The Guardian notes that the U.S. Mint says the image of Angelou was “inspired by her poetry and symbolic of the way she lived.”
The coin is the first in a series being rolled out by the American Women Quarters Program, a four-year program that “celebrates the accomplishments and contributions made by women to the development and history of our country.” Beginning this year and going through 2025, the U.S. Mint plans to issue “up to five new reverse designs each year.”
In addition to Angelou, quarters in 2022 will also feature physicist and first woman astronaut Sally Ride; Wilma Mankiller, the first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation; Nina Otero-Warren, a leader in New Mexico’s suffrage movement and the first female superintendent of Santa Fe public schools; and Anna May Wong, the first Chinese American film star in Hollywood.
Angelou, who died at the age of 86 at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in 2014, became a household name after the release of her landmark book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Published in 1969, The New York Times calls the work “a lyrical, unsparing account of her childhood in the Jim Crow South,” and it was notably “among the first autobiographies by a 20th-century black woman to reach a wide general readership.” The work was followed by a series of memoirs, an inaugural poem titled On the Pulse of Morning at the swearing-in of Bill Clinton, a Tony Award nomination, professorships, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and many more notable achievements.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., the Senate sponsor of legislation directing the Mint to issue the quarters honoring women, lauded the honor: “This coin will ensure generations of Americans learn about Maya Angelou’s books and poetry that spoke to the lived experience of Black women,” she said in a statement.