Maya Angelou has become the first Black woman to appear on the US quarter after new coins went into circulation.

In an official statement on Monday (10 January), the US Mint said it began shipping quarters featuring the image of late poet and activist Angelou as the first coins in its American Women Quarters (AWQ) programme.

The quarter design depicts Angelou stretching her arms out, with a bird in flight behind her and a rising sun, inspired by her poetry and “symbolic of the way she lived”.

Angelou, a prominent American author, poet and activist, rose to prominence with the publication of her ground-breaking autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings in 1969.

Angelou died in 2014 at the age of 86. She was honoured with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010 by former president Barack Obama.

Commenting on the new Maya Angelou quarters, the country’s first woman treasury secretary Janet Yellen said: “Each time we redesign our currency, we have the chance to say something about our country… I’m very proud that these coins celebrate the contributions of some of America’s most remarkable women, including Maya Angelou.”

Under the “historic” AWQ coin programme, the US mint will issue 20 quarters over the next four years to commemorate the contribution of American women in shaping the country’s history.

These include physicist and first woman astronaut Sally Ride and Wilma Mankiller, the first woman principal chief of Cherokee Nation, the federally recognised Cherokee tribe.

Other honourees include Nina Otero-Warren, a leader of New Mexico’s suffrage movement and the first woman superintendent of Santa Fe public schools, and Anna May Wong, the first Chinese American film star in Hollywood.

Additional reporting by agencies

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