Maya Angelou first black woman featured on U.S. quarter

The celebrated poet, whose career encompassed dance, theatre, journalism, and social activism, features on the quarter as part of the U.S. Mint's American Women Quarters Program.

Image courtesy of the United States Mint

Image courtesy of the United States Mint

Maya Angelou, poet and social activist, became the first black woman to be featured on the U.S. quarter.

The quarter depicts Maya Angelou with her arms uplifted on its reverse. The depiction by Designer Emily Damstra and Sculptor Craig Campbell frames Angelou with a bird in flight and a rising sun behind her — images symbolic of her poetry and the way she lived.

The obverse depicts a portrait of George Washington.

Angelou rose to international prominence as an author after the publication of her groundbreaking autobiography “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” Angelou’s published works of verse, non-fiction, and fiction include more than 30 bestselling titles. She was the first black woman to write, and perform, a poem at a presidential inauguration — Angelou read “On the Pulse of Morning” at the 1992 inauguration of President Clinton. She was also only the second poet in history to do so, following Robert Frost, who recited a poem at President Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961.

Angelou’s career encompassed dance, theatre, journalism, and social activism. She appeared in Broadway and off-Broadway plays, including “Cabaret for Freedom,” which she wrote with Godfrey Cambridge. At the request of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., she served as northern coordinator of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In 1978, she was a National Book Award judge for biography and autobiography.

Angelou received more than 30 honorary degrees and was inducted into the Wake Forest University Hall of Fame for Writers. In 2010, President Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She was also the 2013 recipient of the Literarian Award, an honorary National Book Award for contributions to the literary community. She died in 2014 at the age of 86.

The Maya Angelou Quarter becomes the first coin in the American Women Quarters Program by the United States Mint. According to the U.S. Mint the the program is a four-year initiative that celebrates the accomplishments and contributions made by women to the development and history of the U.S. Beginning in 2022, and continuing through 2025, the agency will seek to issue up to five new reverse designs each year. The obverse of each coin will maintain a likeness of George Washington.

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