Maya Angelou has become the first Black woman ever to appear on a US quarter after a coin featuring the late poet and activist’s image went into circulation on Monday.
The quarter features an image of Angelou with her arms uplifted, a bird in flight and a rising sun behind her, with a portrait of George Washington on the “heads” side. The US Mint said the image of Angelou was “inspired by her poetry and symbolic of the way she lived”.
The poet and writer, who died in 2014, was the author of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, in which she wrote about the racial discrimination she experienced growing up. The author of 36 books – and the recipient of more than 20 honorary degrees – she read her poem On the Pulse of the Morning at Bill Clinton’s 1992 inauguration and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2010.
“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 Janet Yellen, US treasury secretary.
The Angelou quarter is the first in the US Mint’s American Women Quarters programme, which will include the physicist and first female astronaut Dr Sally Ride and Wilma Mankiller, the first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, later this year. The American public was invited to submit names of iconic women for the programme after a bill was put forward by Democrat congresswoman Barbara Lee.
“I will forever cherish the private moments I had the privilege to share with Maya, from talking in her living room as sisters to her invaluable counsel throughout the challenges I faced as a Black woman in elected office,” said Lee. “I am proud to have led this effort to honour these phenomenal women, who more often than not are overlooked in our country’s telling of history. 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.’”