Here comes a course correction from the U.S. Mint concerning women’s contribution to American history.

Instead of Presidents, Founding Fathers, and other male notable pictured on our currency, the face of the poet Maya Angelou will now appear on the U.S. quarter where George Washington usually sits.

Angelou’s image will be the first in a series honoring female pioneers from different fields. Sounds good. My only question goes to the way this news was hailed in the press:

When the issue of race is not the issue

A New York Times headline screaming “Maya Angelou Becomes First Black Woman on a Quarter” was typical.

The honor was for the contribution her poetry made to American society, not her skin color.

Granted, Angelou’s race played a part in some of her writing, as in say, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” But not all. Her poem on aging, for example, is about the human condition of getting old:

“When you see me sitting quietly,” she lyricized, “Don’t think I need your chattering. I’m listening to myself…” She ended with the line, “ain’t I lucky I can still breathe in.”

Setting Angelou aside by her race is like Mitch McConnell setting her people aside with his recent remark, “Black people vote just as much as Americans.”

When words matter

Nowhere in the U.S. Mint director Gentris C. Gibson’s announcement was the word “Black” mentioned.

Referring to American women’s contributions to history, she said: “Maya Angelou used words to inspire and uplift.”

As if to illustrate Gibson’s words, the image of Angelou on the quarter, designed by Emily Damstra, shows her backlit by the sun's blazing rays with her arms uplifted in front of a bird on the wing.

As for Angelou being the first black woman on U.S.

currency, she isn’t. The Mint issued a commemorative gold coin five years ago showing a Black Lady Liberty.

And to hear the Treasury Department tell it, the face of abolitionist Harriet Tubman will take the place of Andrew Jackson’s on the $20 bill come 2030.

All of which makes the Times headline, et al inaccurate as well as inappropriate.

A message from California Democrat Barbara Lee, a sponsor of the new coin series honoring women, makes the point:

When you get one of those quarters bearing Angelou’s likeness, Lee said, let it remind you of her words “Be certain that you do not die without having done something wonderful for humanity.”

Distinguishing characteristic

But wait, there is a distinguishing characteristic to the Angelou quarter that has nothing to do with her race and everything to do with her claim to fame.

You don’t just get a face as you do with other coins, like say, Washington on the quarter. You get a narrative. No small task for the artist who told Artnet her process.

Damstra, acknowledging the difficulty in presenting a picture of Angelou's contribution to American culture, opted to describe her gesturing in a cheering, rousing way.

This characterizes not only her poetry performances, she said, but also “best convey the passivate way she lived.”

One more thing. If this news about the Angelou coin warrants a screaming headline, it should be that a poet rather than a politician got the honor!