The United States Mint has begun circulating 25c coins that feature the portrait of the late Maya Angelou making the poet and civil rights activist whose husband was Greek, the first African-American woman to appear on an American quarter-dollar coin.

Ms Angelou’s is the first in a series of 20 “quarters” coins in the American Women Quarters Program that will commemorate the contributions of American women to the nation’s history over the next four years.

This year along with Ms Angelou the other women to be represented will be Sally Ride (physicist and first woman astronaut); Wilma Mankiller (first female principal chief of the Cherokee nation), Nina Otero-Warren (leader of the New Mexico suffrage movement and first female superintendent of Santa Fe public schools) and May Wong (the first Chinese-American Hollywood film star.

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Ms Angelou was chosen as the first in the series because she “used words to inspire and uplift”. She worked alongside key figures in the US civil rights movement Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X.

She first came to notice with the publication “I Know Why Caged Bird Sing” in 1969. She was the first African-American to present a poem at a US presidential inauguration – Bill Clinton’s in 1992.

President Barack Obama conferred on her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010.

She died in 2014 aged 86. The following year Ms Angelou was honoured with limited edition stamp.