The United States Mint has started distributing quarters featuring the image of Maya Angelou, making the poet and activist the first Black woman to appear on US currency.
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.
Maya Angelou, the author of 36 books and the recipient of more than 20 honorary degrees, 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 coins depicting Angelou were part of the American Women Quarters Program, celebrating prominent women in US history. The 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.’”