A historic new coin featuring famous African-American poet Maya Angelou has been released by the United States Mint.
The new design is featured on the back of a batch of quarters behind the traditional portrait of George Washington which was featured in 1932. It depicts Angelou with outstretched arms, matching the silhouette of a bird in flight, evoking the famous autobiography of the writer, I know why the caged bird is singing.
“Angelou’s remarkable career spans dance, theater, journalism and social activism,” the US Mint statement announcing the play read. “She has appeared in plays on and off Broadway, including Cabaret for freedom, which she wrote with Godfrey Cambridge. At the request of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., she served as the Northern Coordinator of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In 1978 she was a judge for the National Book Award for Biography and Autobiography. “
The Mint’s announcement also noted that Angelou was the first African-American writer to recite a poem during a presidential inauguration. She read “On the Pulse of Morning” when Bill Clinton was inaugurated in 1993. She was only the second poet to speak at a presidential inauguration after Robert Frost spoke ahead of John F. Kennedy in 1961.
During his career, Angelou has received over 30 honorary degrees and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010 by former President Barack Obama. She died at the age of 86 in 2014.
The Quarter with Angelou is the first in a planned series of collector’s items known as the American Women Quarters Program. Created by Congress in 2020 with the passage of the Circulating Collectible Coin Redesign Act, the program aims to honor “the achievements and contributions of women to the development and history of our country,” according to the US Mint. It is expected to extend from 2022 to 2025.
After Angelou, other plays in 2022 will feature Dr. Sally Ride, an astronaut and the first American woman in space; Wilma Mankiller, the first female Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation; Nina Otero-Warren, women’s suffrage leader and first female superintendent of schools in Santa Fe; and Anna May Wong, a pioneering Chinese-American film star of the 1920s and 1930s.
“The Secretary of the Treasury selects the winners after consultation with the American Women’s History Initiative at the Smithsonian Institution, the National Women’s History Museum and the Congressional Bipartisan Women’s Caucus,” the US Mint said. “In 2021, the public was invited to submit recommendations for potential winners through a web portal created by the National Women’s History Museum.”