Maya Angelou — revered poet, singer and author — is now the first Black woman to be depicted on the U.S. quarter. Angelou spent ten years of her childhood in Stamps, (Lafayette County) in South Arkansas, where she lived with her grandmother, Annie Henderson. Angelou died in 2014 at age 86.
The coin is the first in a series from the U.S. Mint called “The American Women Quarters Program.” Angelou is seen “with her arms uplifted,” the Mint said. ‘Behind her are a bird in flight and a rising sun, images inspired by her poetry and symbolic of the way she lived.” More from the U.S. Mint below, followed by an excerpt from the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.
The Maya Angelou Quarter is the first coin in the American Women Quarters™ Program. Maya Angelou was a celebrated writer, performer, and social activist. She rose to international prominence as an author after the publication of her groundbreaking autobiography “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” Angelou’s published works of verse, non-fiction, and fiction include more than 30 bestselling titles.
Angelou’s remarkable career encompasses dance, theater, journalism, and social activism. She appeared in Broadway and off-Broadway plays, including “Cabaret for Freedom,” which she wrote with Godfrey Cambridge. At the request of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., she served as northern coordinator of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In 1978, she was a National Book Award judge for biography and autobiography.
Angelou read “On the Pulse of Morning” at the 1992 inauguration of President Clinton. Angelou’s reading marked the first time an African American woman wrote and presented a poem at a presidential inauguration. She was also only the second poet in history to do so, following Robert Frost, who recited a poem at President Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961.
Angelou received more than 30 honorary degrees and was inducted into the Wake Forest University Hall of Fame for Writers. 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.
A bit more from the Encyclopedia of Arkansas:
After the divorce of their parents in 1931, Marguerite and Bailey Jr. were sent to Arkansas to live with their paternal grandmother, Annie Henderson, and their uncle, Willie, in Stamps. Henderson owned a grocery store in the center of the black section of the small town and reared the children according to the strict Christian values common in the rural South at that time. The family encountered the racial prejudice of white customers in the store and of the community leaders generally. In her autobiography, Angelou recounted chafing at the attitudes she encountered of people who seemed to condone the limited opportunities available for black high school graduates of the time. Later, Angelou suggested that her faith and Christian beliefs—as well as her strong sense of fair play and realization of her own and others’ inner beauty—stemmed from these early experiences.
In 1935, the children were returned to the care of their mother in St. Louis but were sent back to Stamps after it was discovered that Marguerite had been sexually molested by her mother’s boyfriend. The man was tried and convicted but then released; he was found dead soon after. The eight-year-old girl felt guilty and believed that her voice had caused the death of the rapist, so she became mute and remained so for several years.
The two children once again moved to be with their mother—this time to San Francisco, California. After dropping out of high school, Marguerite was briefly employed as a cable car conductor, the first black person ever to hold that position. She returned to Mission High School and earned a scholarship to study dance, drama, and music at San Francisco’s Labor School, where she also learned about the progressive ideologies that may have served as a foundation for her later social and political activism. In 1944, three weeks after graduation, she gave birth to her son, Claude (who later changed his name to Guy). She had no further formal education.
At age sixteen, in order to support herself and her son, she worked in many capacities: cocktail waitress, dancer, cook, and sex worker—all before the age of twenty-five. She used these life experiences to serve as themes in her works of prose and poetry.
At the age of twenty-one, she married a Greek sailor, Tosh Angelos. Before they divorced in 1952, when she was singing at the Purple Onion nightclub in San Francisco, she created her professional name by combining a variation of his surname with her brother’s nickname for her, Maya. Eventually, she legally changed her name to Maya Angelou.