By Wayne Hopper, Guest Blogger
In an exciting first, the U.S. Mint is rolling out its much-anticipated American Women Quarters Program. The 2022 release of the program begins circulation this month and features five women from various backgrounds who have been influential in American society and to humanity. The five women chosen for 2022 are Maya Angelou, Dr. Sally Ride, Wilma Mankiller, Nina Otero-Warren, and Anna May Wong. The program will continue through 2025.
In honor of Black History Month, Woodruff Family Law Group takes a closer look at Maya Angelou, a 2022 American Women Quarter Honoree. Angelou was an American writer, teacher, and civil rights activist.
Born Marguerite Annie Johnson on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri, she was given her nickname, “Maya” by her older brother Bailey. While she wouldn’t begin her writing career in earnest until around 1959, she would become a prolific writer throughout her fifty-plus-year career, publishing seven autobiographies, three books of essays, and several books of poetry. She is credited with the authorship of plays, movies, and television shows.
Ties to the Piedmont Triad Area
Angelou had a strong connection to the Piedmont Triad. She received an honorary degree in 1977 by Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. In 1982, she was named the first Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University.
Among her most famous works is the poem Still I Rise, which praises the unconquerable spirit of African Americans over the course of our country’s history. The poem also happened to be her favorite. Her best-known autobiography is I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
Angelou was also a film director and Grammy winner. She was invited to recite her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration.
But Angelou’s influence extends far beyond her published works. She is just as well known for her work as a civil rights activist. After living abroad in the early 1960s, she returned to the United States in 1965 to assist Malcolm X in building a new civil rights organization, the Organization of Afro-American Unity. In early 1968, Martin Luther King asked Angelou to organize a march. However, Dr. King would be assassinated that April in Memphis, Tennessee.
Devastated by these events, Angelou began to pour more and more of herself into writing and turning her works into successful plays and television shows. She composed original music for Roberta Flack and other artists. She also composed movie scores and wrote articles and short stories, and appeared in a supporting role in the television mini-series Roots.
Angelou, who was married and divorced twice, had one child. She spent the latter part of her life and career teaching and touring on the lecture circuit. Angelou taught at several universities, including The University of Ghana and Wake Forest University (as noted above). Her influence on American life and her long and diverse career makes her the perfect choice as an honoree for the American Women’s Quarters Program.