Maya Angelou on the quarter, a milestone in American symbolism

“I thought ‘my voice killed that man’ and that my voice was so evil, that if I put it out into the world, it could kill anybody.”  Maya Angelou is the first subject of the American Women Quarters program.

By Flora Haberman – 9th grade.

Arms outstretched, shadowed by the graceful wings of a bird, Maya Angelou, poet, scholar, and activist, shines at the center of the U.S quarter. It is the first coin in the American Woman Quarters program, which will release more coins featuring important women in American history throughout the next few years. The choice of Maya Angelou as its first subject is a major symbolic milestone in the acknowledgement of powerful, accomplished women deserving of respect and recognition. Angelou, a highly celebrated writer who, in 2011, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by former president Barack Obama, proved through her accomplishments not only as an author but also as an advocate for women’s rights, that she is the figure best fit for the honor. The quarter was designed by metallic artist, Emily Damstra who expressed that the design was inspired by Angelou’s poetry but also by the way she led and lived her life.

The design of Angelou on the quarter is very significant in today’s America in that its meaning is to display and remind everyone of the importance of the voices of women everywhere. Maya Angelou was a woman who had once lost her voice due to an unspeakable assault that she faced as a young child. After she had revealed the name of the man who had violated her, he was arrested and then shortly released. Two days later he was found dead on the streets- the police concluded that he had most likely been kicked to death.

In an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 1970, Angelou described feeling responsible for his death. She said at one point, “I thought ‘my voice killed that man’ and that my voice was so evil, that if I put it out into the world, it could kill anybody.” Maya remained mute for years after the fact. The silencing of her voice is symbolic of the silencing of women everywhere and gives deeper meaning to her presence on the quarter. Currency, a tool that is meant to represent the values of its respective country, makes an important statement not only to Americans, but to everyone in the world on the value of women. 

It should be known that ten other nations have already recognized women famous for their achievements on their currency including Syria, the Philippines, Turkey, Mexico, Argentina, New Zealand, Israel, Sweden, Australia, and England. This revelation might leave many Americans wondering- what took us so long?

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