Maya Angelou Is the First Black Woman on a U.S. Quarter

Maya Angelou Is the First Black Woman on a U.S. Quarter

Maya Angelou debuts on the first release of the American Women Quarters Program. (Photo: U.S. Mint)

Maya Angelou has made history once again. The legendary poet and activist received three Grammys, wrote 36 books, and even received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She passed away at 86 in 2014, leaving a nation to mourn one of the century's greatest voices. Now, posthumously, Angelou is breaking another boundary. With the release of a quarter bearing her image in relief, Angelou becomes the first woman and first Black woman to be on a circulating U.S. quarter.

The quarter is part of the American Women Quarters Program, a four-year initiative designed to honor trailblazing women such as chief Wilma Mankiller and astronaut Sally Ride. Angelou's coin is the first to be released. It rolled out of the U.S. Mint and began to make its way to banks and avid collectors on Monday, January 11, 2022. The other legendary ladies will receive release dates over the next four years.

Each woman's design is unique. Angelou's image was designed by United States Mint Artistic Infusion Program Artist Emily Damstra and sculpted by United States Mint Medallic Artist Craig A. Campbell. It depicts a young Angelou lifting her arms in flight, in reference to her most famous work, her autobiography I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.

In addition to the celebration of Angelou's commemoration, the coin has been met with some criticism and controversy. On the reverse of the coin is a portrait of George Washington, designed by artist Laura Gardin Fraser in the early 20th century. As such, critics have pointed out that the civil rights activist Angelou shares a coin with a man who owned many slaves. Additionally, people note that placing women on currency seems to be—at present—a limited-run activity confined to coinage. Many also point out that the promise to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill remains unfulfilled after years of empty words.

Women have greatly contributed to American history and deserve to be on currency and in textbooks. Angelou's quarter is a beautiful tribute and a good place to start. If you are interested in collecting the American Women Quarters Program coins, you can sign up with the U.S. Mint. Starting today, check your change at the grocery store. You may find a shiny reminder of a legendary poet and activist in your hand.

Poet and activist Maya Angelou is the first Black woman to appear on a U.S. quarter.

Maya Angelous Receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Obama

Maya Angelous receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2011. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Angelou is the first of the American Women Quarters Program, a project to represent trailblazing ladies on American coinage, where they are dramatically underrepresented.

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Madeleine Muzdakis

Madeleine Muzdakis is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met and a historian of early modern Britain & the Atlantic world. She holds a BA in History and Mathematics from Brown University and an MA in European & Russian Studies from Yale University. Madeleine has worked in archives and museums for years with a particular focus on photography and arts education. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys hiking, film photography, and studying law while cuddling with her cat Georgia.
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