Poet and activist Maya Angelou has become the first-ever Black woman to be featured on American currency. The US Treasury has now minted quarters featuring Angelou, who was the first Black woman to write and perform a poem at a presidential inauguration.
She has dozens of honorary degrees and was the author of more than 30 best-selling works. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2010, the highest civilian award that exists in the U.S. She shot to fame first in 1969 with an autobiography about growing up in the Deep South. She died in 2014 at the age of 86.
More diverse coins are planned for other trailblazing women, including the first female astronaut Dr Sally Ride, the first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation Wilma Mankiller, and the first Chinese-American Hollywood film star Anna May Wong.
The new currency comes as part of the American Women Quarters program. The American public had a say in who would appear on its currency. Congresswoman Barbara Lee put forward a bill that allowed the public to submit names of iconic women.
Janet Yellen, the U.S.’s first female treasury secretary, hailed the move, saying that each time the country redesigns its currency, it has the chance to say something about the country, including its values and how it has progressed as a society.
Women have rarely featured on American currency. Martha Washington, the first First Lady, was on the $1 silver certificate in the 1800s. Indigenous heroine Pocahontas was in a group picture that century on a $20 bill as well.
On current coins, Native American explorer Sacagawea is on the gold dollar coin. Suffragist Susan B Anthony appeared on the silver dollar, and deaf-blind activist Helen Keller was on the Alabama quarter.
The US Mint has plans to issue 20 more quarters over the next four years.
Still in the works are plans to replace former President Andrew Jackson with Black abolitionist Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill.