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Maya Angelou becomes the first Black woman to appear on a US quarter

The legendary writer and activist passed away in 2014 and is now being paid tribute by having her image depicted on America’s brand new 25 cent coins.

How can one begin to describe the late Maya Angelou?

One might start with her accomplishments as an inspiring poet and novelist, whose books lifted her to fame for discussing subject matter so challenging that some have been banned in certain parts of America, even today.

Many would highlight her years as an activist, working with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X to advocate for equality and peace throughout the Civil Rights Movement. Or perhaps the fact that Maya Angelou was the first Black woman to recite her own written poetry at Bill Clinton’s president inauguration in 1992.

Most would find it notable that – for her life’s work, personal resilience, and kindness ­– Angelou later received the highest US civilian award: a Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded to her by Barack Obama.

It is clear, Maya Angelou’s influence is one that has been far-reaching. Now, the US Treasury is honouring her by producing 25-cent coins embellished with her name and portrait, making Angelou the first Black woman to feature on the US Quarter.

Maya Angelou’s quarter piece depicts her with outstretched arms, standing in front of a flying bird and rising sun.

The design was inspired by her famous poetry, more specifically her book I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, which tells the story of her childhood, coming of age in the Deep South, as well as her experiences of abuse and sexual assault.

The pose and bird taking flight symbolises the way Maya Angelou lived her life, continuing to flourish and after many years of hardship.

Released into circulation on Monday, Angelou’s coin is the first of 20 new quarter pieces being created to celebrate the achievements of remarkable women throughout history, through the American Women Quarters Program.

Several other honourees will appear on new coins in 2022, including Sally Ride, America’s first female astronaut and Wilma Mankiller, the first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.

Over the next four years, Americans can anticipate the release of the remaining coins from the American Women Quarters Program collection.

President Biden has also set plans underway to replace President Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill – who is known to have owned over 100 enslaved people – in favour of a portrait of Harriet Tubman, the iconic American Abolitionist and political activist.

As a matter of security, The United States redesigns its currency periodically to ‘stay ahead of counterfeiting threats and keep counterfeiting levels low.’

The first female Head of US Treasury, Janet Yellen, has described the introduction of new currency designs as an opportunity to send an important message about America, its values, and the progress made by society as a whole.


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