The poet Maya Angelou is the first Black woman to be featured on a U.S. quarter

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (NPR) — A new quarter featuring legendary poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou and other trailblazing American women has officially started shipping to banks on Monday, the U.S. Mint announced. Angelou is the first Black woman to appear on the quarter.

The Maya Angelou design is the first quarter in the “American Women Quarters Program,” a four-year program that will include coins featuring prominent women in U.S. history.

The Maya Angelou quarter
The Maya Angelou quarter is the first in the American Women Quarters Program, which will feature other prominent women in U.S. history. The other quarters in the series will begin rolling out later this year and through 2025, according to the U.S. Mint. [Burwell and Burwell Photography | United States Mint image]
The other honorees include astronaut Sally Ride; actress Anna May Wong; suffragist and politician Nina Otero-Warren; and Wilma Mankiller, the first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. The coins featuring the other honorees will be shipped out this year through 2025, according to the Mint.

Angelou, who died in 2014 at the age of 86, held many distinctions. She received a Presidential Medal of Freedom from former President Barack Obama and won the Literarian Award (an honorary National Book Award). In 1992, she became the first Black woman (and second-ever poet) to write and present a poem at a presidential inauguration, in 1992. She also held more than 30 honorary degrees and published more than 30 bestselling works.

“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,” Mint Deputy Director Ventris C. Gibson said in a statement.

The Angelou quarter shows the writer and poet on the “tails” side of the coin, with her arms uplifted. Behind her are a bird and the rising sun. The Mint says those images are “inspired by her poetry and symbolic of the way she lived.”

The “heads” side features a portrait of George Washington by a female sculptor that was first recommended to the Mint back in 1932. At the time, it selected a design by John Flanagan to portray Washington.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen celebrated the new coins, praising how far America has “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,” Yellen said in a separate statement.

Several lawmakers, such as California Democrat Rep. Barbara Lee and Senator Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, applauded the release of the new coin on Monday.

“The phenomenal women who shaped American history have gone unrecognized for too long — especially women of color,” Lee said in a tweet. “Proud to have led this bill to honor their legacies.”

Lee was influential in introducing the Circulating Collectible Coin Redesign Act of 2020; the act passed in Jan. 2021 and essentially paved the way for the design of the new commemoration coins.

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