Maya Angelou is officially the first Black woman to appear on US quarters

The first ever quarter to honor a Black woman is now in circulation in the United States, featuring poet Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou
(Image credit: Jack Sotomayor / Contributor)

A new quarter has gone into circulation across the United States: the very first one to feature a Black woman. Part of the American Women Quarters Program, the new coin honors poet and activist Maya Angelou on the "tails" side. The "heads" portion still features the traditional bust of George Washington.

Maya, the writer behind some of the most uplifting book quotes in history, was born in Saint Louis, Missouri back in 1928. After releasing her 1969 memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, she became the first African American woman to write a nonfiction bestseller. Given her incredible career and life, which she largely dedicated to the advancement of the Civil Rights Movement, then-President Barack Obama awarded her a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010. The poet passed away a few years later, in 2014, at the age of 86.

In an official statement announcing the release of the new coin, the US Mint explained that the American Women Quarters Program will release a series of coins featuring prominent women in American history later this year and through 2025.

Maya Angelou quarter

(Image credit: U.S. Mint)

In 2022, Americans can expect to fill their wallets with coins featuring Dr. Sally Ride, the first woman astronaut; Wilma Mankiller, the first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation; Nina Otero-Warren, the first female superintendent of the Santa Fe public schools; and Anna May Wong, the first Chinese American film star in Hollywood.

"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," said Secretary of the Treasury Janet L. Yellen in an official statement about the news. "I'm very proud that these coins celebrate the contributions of some of America's most remarkable women, including Maya Angelou."

Back in 2020, California Rep. Barbara Lee introduced the Circulating Collectible Coin Redesign Act and, after it passed in January of 2021, the US Mint invited the general public to submit names of women for consideration. Although encouraging Americans to think of women with varied ethnical, racial and geographical backgrounds, the only real requirement was for the icons to no longer be with us. 

This isn't the first time that the US government has used its currency to honor the African American population. In January of 2021, President Joe Biden announced that he would accelerate the already-in-place efforts to replace former President Andrew Jackson with Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill. 

Anna Rahmanan

Anna Rahmanan is a New York-based writer and editor who covers culture, entertainment, food, fashion and travel news. Anna’s words have appeared on Time Out New York, the Huffington Post, Fortune, Forbes, Us Weekly, Bon Appetit and Brooklyn Magazine, among other outlets.