Eight years after her death, acclaimed poet, author and civil rights activist Maya Angelou has landed another historic honor. She is now the first Black woman ever to appear on an official United States coin.
CNN’s Sarah Fortinsky and Devan Cole reported that a new U.S. quarter featuring the late Angelou began being circulated by the United States Mint on Jan. 10.
“The Maya Angelou quarter is the first in the American Women Quarters Program, which will include coins featuring prominent women in American history,” Fortinsky and Cole said. “Other quarters in the series will begin rolling out later this year.”
According to CNN, the quarter series will also honor 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 celebrating the newly released coin, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said: “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.”
Fortinsky and Cole reported that “the new coin still features George Washington’s visage on the ‘heads’ side, while the ‘tails’ side honors Angelou by evoking one of her most famous works, the autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”
California Representative Barbara Lee, who introduced the Circulating Collectible Coin Redesign Act of 2020 that ultimately led to the Angelou quarter, said she was pleased the effort had finally come to fruition.
“The phenomenal women who shaped American history have gone unrecognized for too long — especially women of color,” she tweeted. “Proud to have led this bill to honor their legacies.”
Although Lee promoted the redesign of the nation’s quarters, the subjects who ultimately won a place on the coins were determined by the general public.
“The U.S. Mint invited the public to submit names of women they view as American icons,” Fortinsky and Cole explained. “The bureau welcomed entries of women known for their work in civil rights, science and the arts, among other areas, with an emphasis on women from ‘ethnically, racially and geographically diverse backgrounds.’ The only requirement was that the women who appear on the coins must be deceased.”
Additional coins in the series will be released through 2025.