Maya Angelou

Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Dr. Maya Angelou attends the 5th annual Norman Mailer Center benefit gala at The New York Public Library on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013 in New York.(Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

The U.S. Mint has begun shipping quarters featuring writer and civil rights activist Maya Angelou to banks in the United States, the bureau said Monday - making her the first Black woman to be featured on a quarter dollar.

It's the first in a series of coins designed to celebrate the accomplishments of American women.

Other women whose likenesses will soon be featured as part of the "American Women Quarters Program" include Anna May Wong, widely considered to be the first Chinese American movie star, and Sally Ride, the first American woman to fly to space.

"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," U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement. "I'm very proud that these coins celebrate the contributions of some of America's most remarkable women, including Maya Angelou."

Angelou, who died in 2014 a few years after receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, from Barack Obama, was a child of the Jim Crow South who rose to international prominence as a writer known for her frank chronicles of personal history and a performer instantly identified by her regal presence and rich voice.

Her most famous work, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," describes the racism and abuse she endured during her harrowing childhood.

The new 25-cent coin will feature Angelou from the waist up, with her arms uplifted, a bird in flight and a rising sun behind her - "images inspired by her poetry and symbolic of the way she lived," according to the U.S. Mint. To her right are the words "E Pluribus Unum," the Latin phrase for "Out of Many, One" that is featured on the national seal. The designer was Emily Damstra and it was sculpted by Craig Campbell. It was issued in 2022 and minted at the United States Mints in Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco.

The flip side of the coin will feature a portrait of founding father George Washington designed by Laura Gardin Fraser. According to the U.S. Mint, Fraser some 90 years ago became the first woman to design a U.S. commemorative coin when she created a portrait of Washington to mark his 200th birthday.

While "her work was a recommended design for the 1932 quarter, then-Treasury Secretary Mellon ultimately selected the familiar John Flanagan design," the Mint statement reads.

"Ninety years after she intended for it to do so, her obverse design will fittingly take its place on the quarter," Mint Deputy Director Ventris Gibson said of Fraser's portrait of Washington.

Angelou is the first of five women whose likeness are set to be featured on new 25-cent coins in 2022 as part of the "American Women Quarters Program." The program was authorized by an act of Congress in 2020, which directs the Secretary of the Treasury to issue up to five quarters per year until the end of 2025 representing "the accomplishments and contributions" of a diverse range of American women in various fields related to politics, science and the arts.

"Each 2022 quarter is designed to reflect the breadth and depth of accomplishments being celebrated throughout this historic coin program," Gibson said in the statement. "Maya Angelou, featured on the reverse of this first coin in the series, used words to inspire and uplift."

Some lawmakers cheered the news of the rollout of the Maya Angelou quarter on Monday, including Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., the sponsor of the resolution that paved the way for the creation of the "American Women Quarters Program."

Others, such as Colorado state Rep. Leslie Herod and Pennsylvania state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, both Democrats, joked on social media about their preference for the Angelou quarters over existing quarters.

As they celebrated the first Black woman to be featured on a quarter, others referenced a separate effort to add abolitionist Harriet Tubman to the 20-dollar note - an effort first launched when Barack Obama was president that was opposed by President Donald Trump but that the Biden administration has attempted to revive.

The U.S. Mint recommends that those interested in the coin's release date ask their local bank if they have any available in late January and early February.

A proof set of the coins in the series is available to preorder online.

The Washington Post 

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