SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) – Today is the final day of Black History Month and we are highlighting the life and legacy of Dr. Maya Angelou and her family. She became the first Black woman to be featured on U.S. currency.
KRON4’s Reyna Harvey had the opportunity to speak with her son Guy Johnson, just days before he passed away at his home in Oakland.
“I think that grandma would have been proud to be the first one on the quarter, kicking down the door for the rest of the women that will follow,” Elliot Jones said.
Dr. Maya Angelou has been no stranger to breaking the mold. The literary giant and civil rights activist became the first female inaugural poet and first female African American cable car conductor in San Francisco, but to her son Guy Johnson and grandson Elliott Jones, the matriarch of their family always had a word of wisdom to share.
“She used to say, can you imagine a world where every child was able to realize his potential, and a light within itself, we would have the key to cancer, we would have the key to all the problems set before us,” Johnson said.
The distinguished poet is making history yet again by being the first Black woman to be featured on the quarter.
“We are both honored, because this is beginning to recognize what women have done for this country,from the time, of its birth, to now,” Johnson said.
For Dr. Angelou’s family, this newest historic moment for them means her legacy and universal message of love and community continues to be pushed to the forefront uplifting others, even during trying times.
“I always look at her poetry for kinda questions like this, and I think that she would make it very clear like in her poem the human family like, we are more alike than we are unalike, and as long as we look for divisions, and difference instead of similarities we will never come together to achieve what we need to achieve,” Jones said.
“She would say in a minute that division makes us weaker, less capable, achieving the tasks, that lie before us,” Johnson said.
The new coin Dr. Angelou is gracing is a part of the “American women quarters program,” an initiative to commemorate a number of prominent American women throughout history. East Bay Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) introduced the bill to create the program.
“I am just so excited, because so many who have contributed to the building of this country in so many ways, the public only sees these guys, and now they will be able to see women, women of color,” Angelou said.
Dr. Angelou is the first of six women honorees whose coins will be in circulation through 2025. She is pictured on the tail side of the coin with her arms stretching towards the skies, with a bird’s wings mirroring her movement, a nod to her famous autobiography “I know why the caged bird sings.”
“i thought that picture with the bird behind her, the wings, and her arms out gave some sense of the style that she had the grace that she had,” Johnson said.
Dr. Angelou garnerd a number of prestigious literary and humanitarian awards throughout her life, and her family tells me she continues to give even after her death through her Dr. Maya Angelou Foundation.
“Her tireless giving she was truly selfless in every sense of the word,” Jones said.
“The other thing she would say is, ‘there is still work to do,’ roll up ya sleeves, and get ready,” Johnson said. “The struggle is not over. The struggle is not over, this is just a small indication. We have a long way to go before justice and equality is practiced across the board.”