Writer Maya Angelou and the first woman to fly in space, Sally Ride, are the first to appear on the coins set to be released next year.
U.S Mint announced it has begun shipping out the first quarters featuring trailblazing American women, beginning with poet, writer and activist Maya Angelou, the first Black woman to appear on the quarter.
Part of the American Women Quarters Program, the Angelou coin is one of four expected to be shipped this year through 2025. George Washington’s likeness remain on one side, while the other will have the honored women. The women that will be featured include Wilma Mankiller, the Cherokee Nation’s first female principal chief, Anna May Wong, the first Chinese American Hollywood film star, Adelina Otero-Warren, a leader in New Mexico’s suffrage movement and Sally Ride, an astronaut and physicist who was the first American woman in space.
Angelou is depicted on the coin with her arms uplifted. Behind her are a bird and the rising sun, which are “inspired by her poetry and symbolic of the way she lived.”
It is my honor to present our Nation’s first circulating coins dedicated to celebrating American women and their contributions to American history,” Mint Deputy Director Ventris C. Gibson said in a news release. “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.”
The push for the coin program started in 2017, with the support of U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif. Lee drafted legislation with help from Rosa Gumataotao Rios, a Treasury official who oversaw the U.S. Mint under President Barack Obama.
Lee created the Circulating Collectible Coin Redesign Act with two Republicans, U.S. Reps. Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio and Deb Fischer of Nebraska. It was signed into law in 2020 and the public was able to nominate potential honorees last year.
Angelou, who died at 86 in 2014, rose to national prominence with her 1969 debut memoir “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” She was widely recognized as part of the Civil Rights Movement, working alongside fellow activists such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
The poet made history as the first Black poet to write and read a poem at a presidential inauguration, when she read “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s first inauguration in 1993. She was later given the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the highest civilian awards in the U.S., in 2011 by then-President Barack Obama.
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.'”
USA TODAY has reached out to U.S. Mint on how people can obtain the quarters.
While Angelou is the first Black woman to appear on the quarter, for years there has been a push to put more Black woman on U.S. currency. Abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who rescued about 70 enslaved people through the Underground Railroad, was proposed to replace Andrew Jackson — who owned enslaved people — on the $20 bill.
The movement began during the Obama administration, but was delayed by former President Donald Trump, who called the move “pure political correctness.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said shortly after President Joe Biden’s inauguration in 2020 the Treasury Department was looking at ways to “speed up the process,” according to The New York Times. However, The Washington Post reported Tubman might not be on a bill before the end of his term, or a potential second term.