OLLU history professor explains the importance of the new Maya Angelou quarter

Maya Angelou the first Black Women on a US Quarter.

By Gabriel Cook

SAN ANTONIO- Dr. Valerie Martinez teaches history at Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU) and says while some are being accused of trying to suppress Black history, the new Maya Angelou quarter will encourage students to enquire about it.

The United States (U.S.) Mint announced on Jan. 10, that they would be shipping out new quarters with the face of the African American author, poet, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou. This makes Maya Angelou not only the first woman but the first Black woman to be placed on a U.S. quarter.

“We are seeing more women trying to make a difference in their communities,” said Dr. Martinez. “I think that it is great that we are using a 20th Century figure like Maya Angelou who delivers these messages as she did in her earliest work “I Know Why a Cage Bird Sings”, she looked at her own trauma but also delivered messages of hope through an unjust era. I think she is relatable and she provided a message of power to keep on going.”

Anti-Critical Race Theory (CRT) bills such as Senate Bill 3 (SB3) and Texas House Bill 3979 (HB 3979 ) are bills that force educators to suppress the emotions and learning experience of Black history and colonialism in America, Dr. Martínez highlights the importance of the new coin and how it educates individuals on black history and what kind of contributions Maya Angelou has made. 

“It is imperative for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) students to see themselves reflected in their education, so that they may understand the contributions of their communities,” said Dr. Martinez.

The coin that celebrates the life of Maya Angelou is the first of its kind, made possible by the American Women Quarters Program. 

The American Women Quarters Program is a four-year program that celebrates the accomplishments and contributions made by women to the development and history of the United States of America. 

The five distinguished American women that will be celebrated and distributed on the 2022 quarters are:

  • Maya Angelou – celebrated writer, performer, and social activist
  • Dr. Sally Ride – physicist, astronaut, educator, and a first American woman in space.
  • Wilma Mankiller – first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.
  • Nina Otero-Warren – a leader in New Mexico’s suffrage movement and the first female. superintendent of Santa Fe public schools.
  • Anna May Wong – first Chinese American film star in Hollywood.

Starting in the new year of 2022, and continuing through 2025, the U.S. Mint will distribute five new coins each year with distinguished American women celebrated on the reverse (tails) side of the quarters. Maintaining the obverse (heads) side with George Washington. 

“For the Black community and women in particular this is crucial because the contributions of Black women have been historically discounted,” said Dr. Martinez. “Through their actions, their words, these women have actively reclaimed their agency and power even when they face the most difficult of obstacles and barriers.”

Maya Angelou was born on Apr. 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri, and died May. 8, 2014. Angelou’s legacy encompasses a career full of civil rights advocacy, singing, dancing, acting, writing, and being Hollywood’s first female Black director. 

After publishing her autobiography “I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings” Angelou began her rise to international prominence. As a published writer Angelou and her works of non-fiction and fiction include more than 30 best-selling titles. She is also a recipient of more than 30 honorary degrees. 

The design for the tails side of this newly designed quarter was produced by U.S. Mint Artistic Infusion Program (AIP) Artist Emily Damstra and sculpted by U.S. Mint Metallic Artist Craig A. Campbell. 

The tails side of the new quarter depicts Maya Angelou with her arms lifted and behind her are a bird in flight and a rising sun. 

The American Women Quarters Program was authorized to process and distribute by the Circulating Collectible Coin Redesign Act of 2020.

If you are looking to collect and celebrate the life of Maya Angelou or any of these distinguished women of American history, look for these quarters in your change or shop online and enroll in this program to receive all four of the annual installments. 


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