INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — American icon Maya Angelou will be the first Black woman featured on the U.S quarter.
It’s the first in a series that will commemorate female pioneers. The quarters have already gone to mint and will be in circulation next month.
Angelou is known for her poetry, but for many people, her works mean more than words on paper. And they feel this symbolic gesture is timely and overdue.
“Mother Maya, you made the dream of humanity visible,” poet Manon Voice said, reciting a poem she wrote to honor Angelou. Voice says Angelou lit a spark in her and that fire hasn’t gone out.
“Her voice, her charisma, her authenticity, her boldness, it just leaped off the page,” Voice said.
Angleou’s many works of literature, but specifically the poem “Phenomenal Woman,” gave Voice the inspiration to write. As a Black woman, she gained power over her own voice.
“When [Angelou] says, ‘still I rise,’ she was writing from her own life. And overcoming so much,” Voice said.
Angelou is the first in a series of women to be honored on the quarter. Other notable women like Sally Ride, Wilma Mankiller, Nina Otero Warren, and Anna May Wong will follow.
But having Maya Angelou lead the way, professor of Afrikana studies at IUPUI Lasana Kazembe says, is fitting.
“I thought it fitting and thought she was among one of the greatest people they could’ve selected to represent in that way,” Kazembe said.
He says her ability to appeal across generational and ethnic lines made her special, along with the way she used her talents to rise above a life of abuse, poverty and racism. He says to celebrate the symbolism of the coin, but to also look beyond that.
“Use this as an opportunity to really go deeper into Maya Angelo’s corpus. And try to connect with those messages and those teachings that she left us, which is invaluable.”
The Native American Sacagawea, who helped guide the Lewis and Clark expedition, was the first women to appear on a coin: the gold one dollar coin. Over the next few years, 22 woman in total will be featured on the quarter.