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U.S. Mint: Coins and Diversity

Categories : Cash connects people, Cash is a public good, Cash is a symbol of national sovereignty, Uncategorized
October 25, 2022
Tags : Coins, Diversity, Social Inclusion, US, Women, Women on banknotes
This year, the U.S. Mint released the first pieces of U.S. currency to display a Black woman (Maya Angelou) and an Asian American icon (Anna May Wong).
Manuel A. Bautista-González

Ph.D. in U.S. History, Columbia University in the City of New York

Post-Doctoral Researcher in Global Correspondent Banking, 1870-2000 – Mexico and South America, University of Oxford

This post is also available in: Spanish

“Each time we redesign our currency, we have the chance to say something about our country — what we value, and how we’ve progressed as a society. I’m very proud that these coins celebrate the contributions of some of America’s most remarkable women.” – U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen

This year, the U.S. Mint released the first pieces of U.S. currency to feature a Black woman and an Asian American icon. Writer and civil-rights activist Maya Angelou and Anna May Wong, Hollywood’s first Chinese American movie star, have been included in a new 25-cent coin (quarter) series featuring prominent American women.

The Circulating Collectible Coin Redesign Act of 2020 directed the Treasury Department to issue up to five quarters per year until the end of 2025 with designs honoring “the accomplishments and contributions” of U.S. women in “suffrage, civil rights, abolition, government, humanities, science, space and arts” from “ethnically, racially, and geographically diverse backgrounds.”

Maya Angelou

“As a leader in the civil rights movement, poet laureate, college professor, Broadway actress, dancer, and the first female African American cable car conductor in San Francisco, Maya Angelou’s brilliance and artistry inspired generations of Americans. […] If you find yourself holding a Maya Angelou quarter, may you be reminded of her words, ‘be certain that you do not die without having done something wonderful for humanity.’” — Representative Barbara Lee (D-California), U.S. House sponsor of the bill.

Maya Angelou (1928-2014) was a writer, poet, performer, civil rights activist, and instructor. Angelou rose to international prominence after publishing her 1969 memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. She received more than 30 honorary degrees; in 2010, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from U.S. President Barack Obama.

Angelou’s quarter (released in January 2022) depicts her with her arms uplifted, a bird in flight, and a rising sun. While that quarter is the first piece of U.S. currency to display a Black woman, the U.S. Treasury has plans to include Black abolitionist and political activist Harriet Tubman (1822-1913) in the US$20 note. Although the Biden administration announced plans to accelerate the design of her note, there is no timeline announced yet for its launch. 

Wong Liu (Anna May) Wong

“Wong sought to be valued as an actress, a woman with vision and ambition, and an American, all at a time when U.S. society could not imagine a Chinese American woman beyond the limits of racialized and gendered stereotypes of Asian women as exotic and foreign.” — Karen Leong, professor of Asian Pacific American studies at Arizona State University.

Anna May Wong (1905-1961) gained notoriety as a movie actress during intense anti-Asian xenophobia. According to the Los Angeles Times, in a 1933 interview, Wong said she was “so tired of the parts I had to play. Why is it that the screen Chinese is nearly always the villain of the piece and so cruel a villain – murderous, treacherous, a snake in the grass. We are not like that.” In 1960, Wong was the first Asian American actress to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She died a year later, at the age of 56.

While Asians and Pacific Islanders make up more than 6 percent of the U.S. population, they lack adequate representation. According to a 2021 study from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Institute, only 29 out of 1,300 popular films produced from 2007 to 2019 featured Asian and Pacific Islanders. “The fifth coin in our American Women Quarters Program honors Anna May Wong, a courageous advocate who championed increased representation and more multi-dimensional roles for Asian American actors,” said U.S. Mint Director Ventris C. Gibson.

Representation Matters

Other U.S. women included in the new quarter series are astronaut Sally Ride, suffragist and politician Adelina (Nina) Otero-Warren, and Wilma Mankiller, the first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.

All coins in this series include a portrait designed in 1932 by U.S. sculptor Laura Gardin Fraser (1889-1966) to mark George Washington’s 200th birthday. The U.S. Mint had not used Gardin Fraser’s design until this year.

“Laura Gardin Fraser was the first woman to design a U.S. coin. […] Ninety years after she intended for it to do so, her obverse design will fittingly take its place on the quarter.” —  Ventris C. Gibson, U.S. Mint Director.

The Angelou and Wong quarters are emblematic of initiatives to include individuals from historically excluded groups in banknotes and coins worldwide, such as Alan Turing (1912-1954), a British gay mathematician now included in the £50 banknote; Viola Desmond (1914-1965), a Black Canadian civil rights activist, depicted in the CA$10 banknote; Sir Apirana Ngata (1874-1950), a Māori Member of Parliament now portraited in the NZ$50 note; and David Unaipon (1872-1967), an Australian Aborigine author and activist depicted in the AU$50 note.

This post is also available in: Spanish