As new coins made their way into circulation on Monday (Jan. 10) per the U.S. Mint, the late Dr. Maya Angelou was among those featured. The indelible poet, author, and activist appears on the new U.S. quarter, making her the first Black woman to do so.
The Angelou quarter is the first in the American Women Quarters (AWQ) Program. Mint Deputy Director Ventris C. Gibson shared in a statement, “It is my honor to present our Nation’s first circulating coins dedicated to celebrating American women and their contributions to American history. 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.”
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen shared in a separate statement, “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.”
The new coin will still feature George Washington’s visage on one side, while the opposite side (designed by Emily Damstra and sculpted by Craig A. Campbell) highlights Angelou by incorporating imagery from one of her most storied works—her 1969 autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
California Democrat, Rep. Barbara Lee, introduced the Circulating Collectible Coin Redesign Act of 2020. The bill, which passed in January 2021, paved the way for the creation of these new coins. “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,” shared Lee in a statement.
“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. I am proud to have led this effort to honor 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.’”
Excited to announce that today, Maya Angelou becomes the first Black woman to appear on a US quarter!
The phenomenal women who shaped American history have gone unrecognized for too long—especially women of color. Proud to have led this bill to honor their legacies. pic.twitter.com/TYZeEJ8LhX
— Rep. Barbara Lee (@RepBarbaraLee) January 10, 2022
Under said bill, the Department of the Treasury will issue new quarters “in commemoration of the accomplishments and contributions of up to five prominent American women per year.” The U.S. Mint invited the public to submit names of the women they view as American icons with the only requirement being that the women who would appear on the coins must be deceased. Additional honorees include Sally Ride, Anna May Wong, Wilma Mankiller, and Nina Otero-Warren. Their coins will begin shipping later this year and through 2025.
This news comes after the national coin shortage of 2020. However, the U.S. Mint has confirmed that “there is currently an adequate overall amount of coins in the economy.” Due to the business and bank closures associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, normal circulation for U.S. coins was severely impacted. Yet, the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Mint, along with other entities in the industry continue to work together to keep coins in routine circulation.