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How Maya Angelou became the first Black woman to appear on a US quarter

U.S. Mint honored Angelou with a quarter and stated that her depiction symbolized the way she lived her life.

How Maya Angelou became the first Black woman to appear on a US quarter
Cover Image Source: LOS ANGELES - DECEMBER 1996: Cultural icon Maya Angelou poses for a photo in December 1996 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. (Photo by Aaron Rapoport/Corbis/Getty Images), United States Mint

When people think of Maya Angelou, they usually think of a valorous woman who was as heroic in her deeds as artistic. Maya Angelou was a black ocean welling and swelling with the flame bulbs of power, love and inspiration. In 2021, the U.S. Mint released a news according to which the figure of Angelou is now getting minted on the U.S. quarter. Although she passed away in 2014, at the age of 86, her feature on this coin will ensure that she remains immortal in the hearts of the masses, and so does all that she did for the people.

American poet Maya Angelou reciting her poem 'On the Pulse of Morning' at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton in Washington DC, 20th January 1993. (Photo by Consolidated News Pictures/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
American poet Maya Angelou reciting her poem 'On the Pulse of Morning' at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton in Washington DC, 20th January 1993. (Photo by Consolidated News Pictures/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

 

The poet, writer and civil rights activist Maya Angelou is the first black woman to get featured on the forthcoming U.S. quarter. The quarter is basically referred to as the quarter dollar. It is a United States coin worth 25 cents, one-quarter of a dollar. According to the U.S. Mint, this coin was created as part of the American Women Quarters Program, through which a series of special-edition coins honoring American women will be minted over the next four years. In addition to Angelou, other women to be featured in these coins include Chinese-American film star Anna May Wong, astronaut Sally Ride, American Cherokee activist Wilma Mankiller and suffragist Nina Otero-Warren.



 

 

The figure of Angelou depicted in the quarter reveals her dressed in an off-shoulder dress, like the one she used to wear in her theatre performances during her youth. Her outstretched arms are silhouetted against the backdrop of a bird’s open wings and her head with that of the bird’s head. Beneath one of her arms, there is an inscription reading Maya Angelou and beneath the opposite one, another inscription reading the US Motto, E pluribus Unum, which means out of many, one. Topping the figures of Angelou and the bird are rays of light like a shining sun emerging out of the horizon, aligned with the upper arc of the coin’s circumference. According to the U.S. Mint, this design was inspired by her poetry and symbolic of the way she lived.

Image Source: United States Mint
Image Source: United States Mint

 

The portraiture of Maya Angelou on these glittering silver pieces was sculpted by Craig Campbell, a medallic artist and designed by Emily Damstra. According to the Artnet, Emily explained the symbolism behind her illustration, “It was a challenge to figure out a way to represent Maya Angelou, considering that her life and her contributions to American culture were so multifaceted.”



 

The U.S. Mint artist further described the meaning behind each symbol illustrated in the new quarter, “The bird in my design is meant to embody the free bird in her poem Caged Bird. The bird I modeled the image on is a purple martin, a songbird native to Arkansas, where Maya Angelou spent much of her childhood. Purple martins are aerial foragers that spend their days swooping and gliding high in the sky, catching insects on the wing. They are elegant birds in the same family as swallows. For those reasons I thought this would be a good species to illustrate Maya Angelou’s poem, however, the only thing that viewers need to understand is that it is a bird in flight; ultimately the species isn’t really important.”

AUSTIN, TX - APRIL 25: Dr. Maya Angelou speaks to a sold out crowd at the Paramount Theater on April 25, 2009 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Gary Miller/FilmMagic)
AUSTIN, TX - APRIL 25: Dr. Maya Angelou speaks to a sold out crowd at the Paramount Theater on April 25, 2009 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Gary Miller/FilmMagic)

The book which Emily pointed out in her explanation, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" is a 1969 autobiographical memoir authored by Maya Angelou. The book chronicles the dark moments of Angelou’s life while she was growing up in an abusive family and working in several odd jobs. In addition to this book, Angelou was the author of over thirty bestselling titles. 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. The latest minting of her figure on the U.S. quarter is a remarkable initiative to honor the inspiring story of her life.

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