Poet Maya Angelou becomes first Black woman to appear on US coin

NEW YORK, NY – OCTOBER 17, 2013: Maya Angelou appears onstage at the Norman Mailer Center’s Fifth Annual Benefit Gala sponsored by Van Cleef & Arpels at the New York Public Library on October 17, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Michael loccisano / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

NEW YORK, United States (AFP) – Poet and activist Maya Angelou has become the first Black woman to appear on the US quarter, in a new version of the coin unveiled by the US Mint on Monday.

Angelou, author of “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” will also be the first figure commemorated through the American Women Quarters Program, which was signed into law in January 2021.

The US Mint “has begun shipping the first coins” with Angelou’s likeness on the American quarter, a 25-cent piece, according to a press release from the agency.

“It is my honor to present our nation’s first circulating coins dedicated to celebrating American women and their contributions to American history,” said Mint Deputy Director Ventris Gibson.

“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.”

This handout photo provided by The United States Mint on January 10, 2022 shows the reverse (tails) quarter honoring Maya Angelou, designed by United States Mint Artistic Infusion Program (AIP) Artist Emily Damstra and sculpted by United States Mint Medallic Artist Craig A. Campbell. (Photo by Handout / The Department of Treasury / AFP)

The program directs the US Mint to issue quarters each year between 2022 and 2025 featuring five different female American trailblazers.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said she was “proud that these coins celebrate the contributions of some of America’s most remarkable women.”

“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,” she said in a statement.

For much of the last 90 years the quarter has depicted the first US president, George Washington, on one side and an eagle on the other.

In 1999 the US launched a series of quarters honoring the 50 states, with a state’s design depicted on the coin’s reverse. The program was expanded to include US territories and national parks.

The new quarters — which have been minted in Philadelphia and Denver — show Washington on one side and Angelou on the other.

The other figures set to appear on the coin in 2022 are: Sally Ride, the first American woman in space; Wilma Mankiller, first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation; Nina Otero-Warren, a suffrage leader; and Anna May Wong, a Chinese-American film star.

‘Legacy honored’

Born in Missouri in 1928, Angelou was an essayist and poet who worked with civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

Angelou, who delivered the poem at Bill Clinton’s first presidential inauguration, died in 2014.

NEW YORK – NOVEMBER 09, 2009: Honoree/Dr. Maya Angelou (L) and Former U.S. President Bill Clinton onstage at the The 2009 Women of the Year hosted by Glamour Magazine at Carnegie Hall on November 9, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Larry Busacca / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

Yellen has also signaled support for recognizing former slave and abolitionist Harriet Tubman on US currency.

Former president Barack Obama launched an effort to put Tubman’s face on the $20 bill but it stalled under Donald Trump’s administration.

Putting Tubman, a Black woman who escaped slavery and became a leader of the pre-Civil War abolitionist movement, on the bill would be an “honor” but designing banknotes takes time, Yellen said in September.

Many US lawmakers celebrated the release of the Angelou quarters, including congresswoman Ayanna Pressley.

“Black women have historically done the most for our country while receiving the least recognition,” the Massachusetts Democrat tweeted. “Glad to see Maya Angelou, a shero of mine, have her legacy honored.”