Things That Matter

Native American Activist Wilma Mankiller and Latina Icon Nina Otero-Warren Are Among the First 5 Women To Be on a Quarter

On Monday, January 10 the U.S. Mint revealed some exciting news: they will be releasing a new quarter featuring late, legendary poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou on its front. The news marks the first time a Black woman will appear on federal currency.

The Maya Angelou quarter will be the first of five quarters in the American Women Quarters Program. The four-year long program was created by the U.S. mint in an effort to “celebrate the accomplishments and contributions made by women to the development and history of our country.” 

Other women the American Women Quarters program will honor are trailblazing astronaut Sally Ride, Native American activist Wilma Mankiller, Old Hollywood Chinese-American movie star Anna May Wong and suffragette and Hispanic icon Nina Otero-Warren.

In a statement, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen made note of how the evolution of the U.S.’s currency is a direct reflection of how our culture evolves. 

“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,” Yellen said. “I’m very proud that these coins celebrate the contributions of some of America’s most remarkable women, including Maya Angelou.”

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

Born in the Jim Crow South in 1928, Maya Angelou (born Marguerite Annie Johnson) was a beloved poet, author, actress and civil rights activist in her unparalleled life. Despite the many obstacles she faced in her life — racism, poverty, abuse — she nonetheless rose to professional prominence and near universal acclaim. She was famous for her autobiographical book “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and poems like “Still I Rise” and “Phenomenal Woman” among countless others.

By the time of her death in 2014 at the age of 86, she had been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, a Tony Award, and three Grammy Awards. She was a recipient of both the National Medal of Arts as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She also notably recited poetry at the 1993 Presidential Inauguration of Bill Clinton. 

According to the U.S. Mint, the Maya Angelou quarter will feature an image of Angelou with her arms uplifted, behind her there is “a bird in flight and a rising sun,” images that were “inspired by her poetry and symbolic of the way she lived.”

While Maya Angelou is the first Black woman who will officially appear on federal currency, there have also been efforts to have Harriet Tubman replace President Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill.

In 2014, President Obama initially launched plans for Tubman to appear on the $20, before the Trump Administration put an end to the efforts. As of now, the Biden Administration has re-prioritized the mission, saying that they are trying to “speed up” the process of finally getting Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill.

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