“You can kill me with your hatefulness, but just like life, I rise.” The legend lives on in not just her words but in new quarters we will see in circulation this month. The incredible Dr. Maya Angelou is the first to appear in a series of commemorative quarters honoring influential women.
As part of the American Women Quarters program, the U.S. Mint will be honoring a diverse group of women who have made contributions to the country. “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,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement, Politico reported. “I’m very proud that these coins celebrate the contributions of some of America’s most remarkable women, including Maya Angelou.”
The five coins will still have George Washington on the face, but the honorees will be featured on the reverse side. The Mint unveiled the designs for the first batch on Wednesday.
Angelou’s coin depicts her with her arms uplifted. According to Rep. Barbara Lee, Angelou is the first Black woman to appear on the coin.
Lee alongside treasury officials sponsored the program and pushed for it starting in 2017, USA Today reported.
“As a leader in the civil rights movement, poet laureate, college professor, Broadway actress, dancer, and the first female African American cable car conductor in San Francisco, Maya Angelou’s brilliance and artistry inspired generations of Americans,” Lee said. “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.'”
Here’s a closer look at the quarter:
Angelou was the author of more than 30 bestselling titles, including her autobiography, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. She passed away in 2014, at the age of 86.
In addition to her incredible work as a writer and activist, Angelou became the first African-American woman to write and present a poem at a Presidential inauguration when she read “On the Pulse of Morning” at then-President Bill Clinton’s 1992 inauguration, according to the Mint.
“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived. But if faced with courage, need not be lived again,” Angelou said at the time.
She was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2010. The recorded readings of Angelou’s poems won three Grammys, and her written work is known globally.
“Laura Gardin Fraser was the first woman to design a U.S. commemorative coin, and her work is lauded in both numismatic and artistic circles,” Mint Deputy Director Ventris C. Gibson said in a statement. “Ninety years after she intended for it to do so, her obverse design will fittingly take its place on the quarter.”
The other women include Dr. Sally Ride, who made history as the first American woman in space. Anna May Wong was the first Asian-American movie star, who appeared in silent films. Nina Otero Warren was a crusader for women’s equality in 1917 and became New Mexico’s first female government official. And last but not least Wilma Mankiller, the first female chief of the Cherokee Nation and any Native American nation.
“These inspiring coin designs tell the stories of five extraordinary women whose contributions are indelibly etched in American culture,” U.S. Mint acting Director Alison L. Doone said in a statement. “Generations to come will look at coins bearing these designs and be reminded of what can be accomplished with vision, determination, and a desire to improve opportunities for all.”
According to CNET, before this program, some women did appear on U.S. coins, including Helen Keller on the 2003 Alabama quarter as part of the 50 State Quarters Program. Additionally, the 2004 Iowa state quarter featured an image of a female teacher. Susan B. Anthony also appeared on a dollar coin in 1979 and Native American Sacajawea appears on a golden dollar coin issued in 2000.
While Angelou’s coin is already in circulation, the other quarters will continue to be released later this year and into 2025, according to a press release from the U.S. Mint.
The push for wider representation of Black Americans on U.S. currency is not new or limited to coins. In 2016, the Obama administration first announced a proposal to replace former President Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with Harriet Tubman by 2020.
When the Trump administration took office, these efforts were stopped. However, Joe Biden’s administration vowed to “speed up the process,” and get Tubman on the bill according to The New York Times.
Who else would you like to see on currency?
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