First US coins featuring Maya Angelou go into circulation

The African-American poet and activist becomes first black woman to appear on US 25-cent piece

The reverse (tails) quarter honours Maya Angelou and was designed by the United States Mint's Artistic Infusion Programme artist Emily Damstra and sculpted by United States Mint Medallic artist Craig A Campbell. AFP
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Maya Angelou, the African-American poet and activist, has officially joined a select group of Americans to appear on the currency of the United States government, US authorities announced on Monday.

Angelou, author of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, will be the first figure commemorated through the American Women Quarters Programme, which was signed into law in January 2021.

The US Mint "has begun shipping the first coins" with Angelou's likeness on the American quarter, a 25-cent piece, according to a press release from the agency.

"It is my honour to present our nation's first circulating coins dedicated to celebrating American women and their contributions to American history," said US Mint deputy director Ventris Gibson.

"Each 2022 quarter is designed to reflect the breadth and depth of accomplishments being celebrated throughout this historic coin programme. Maya Angelou, featured on the reverse of this first coin in the series, used words to inspire and uplift."

The US Mint has begun shipping quarters featuring the image of poet Maya Angelou. AP

The programme directs the US Mint to issue quarters each year between 2022 and 2025 featuring five different female trailblazers who have contributed to the country.

The quarter has, for the last 90 years, shown the nation's first president, George Washington, on one side, and an eagle on the other.

The new quarters – which have been minted in Philadelphia and Denver – show Washington on one side and Angelou on the other.

The other figures to receive the honour in 2022 are: Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, Wilma Mankiller, the first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation; Nina Otero-Warren, a New Mexico suffrage leader and Anna May Wong, a Chinese-American film star.

Angelou, who was born in Missouri in 1928, was a well-known essayist and poet who worked with Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X during the American civil rights movement.

Angelou, who delivered the poem at former US president Bill Clinton's first inauguration in 1993, died in 2014.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has also signalled support for recognising former slave and abolitionist Harriet Tubman on US currency.

Former US president Barack Obama launched a project to put Tubman's face on the $20 bill, but it stalled under the administration of Donald Trump. Putting Tubman, a black woman who escaped slavery and became a leader of the pre-Civil War abolitionist movement, on the $20 bill would be an "honour" but designing banknotes takes time, Yellen said in September.

Scroll through our gallery below to see more of Maya Angelou through the years.

Updated: January 11, 2022, 11:19 AM