FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Carrie Meek, the grandchild of a slave and a sharecropper’s daughter who became one of the first Black Floridians elected to Congress since Reconstruction, died Sunday. She was 95.
Meek died at her home in Miami after a long illness, her family said in a statement. The family did not specify a cause of death.
Meek started her congressional career at an age when many people begin retirement. She was 66 when she easily won the 1992 Democratic congressional primary in her Miami-Dade County district. No Republican opposed her in the general election.
Alcee Hastings and Corrine Brown joined Meek in January 1993 as the first Black Floridians to serve in Congress since 1876 as the state’s districts had been redrawn by the federal courts in accordance with the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
In Congress, Meek championed affirmative action, economic opportunities for the poor and efforts to bolster democracy in and ease immigration restrictions on Haiti, the birthplace of many of residents of her district.
Politicians and public figures on Monday recalled Meek’s pioneering career.
“Throughout her decades of public service, she was a champion for opportunity and progress, including following her retirement, as she worked to ensure that every Floridian had a roof over his or her head and access to a quality education,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.
After years as a South Florida representative, Meek decided not to seek a sixth term in 2002. Her son Kendrick succeeded in winning her heavily Democratic district, a seat he held for four terms before an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate in 2010.
After leaving Congress, Carrie Meek returned to Miami and created a foundation to work on education and housing issues. Before entering politics, Meek worked as a teacher and administrator at Miami-Dade College.
She was elected to the Florida House in 1978, succeeding pioneer Black legislator Gwen Cherry, who had been killed in an auto accident. She became one of the first African Americans and the first Black woman to serve in the Florida Senate since the 1800s.
She graduated from Florida A&M University in 1946 with a degree in biology and physical education. The university named its building for Black history archives in her honor in 2007.
She accepted a position at Bethune Cookman College as an instructor and became the institution’s first female basketball coach. In 1958, she returned to Florida A&M as an instructor in health and physical education. She held that position until 1961.
Meek continued her teaching career at Miami Dade Community College as the first Black professor, associate dean, and assistant to the Vice President from 1961 to 1979.
Then, she began her trailblazing political career, representing Florida’s 17th Congressional District as a Democratic Florida State House Representative.
In Congress, Meek was a member of the powerful Appropriations Committee and worked to secure $100 million in aid to rebuild Dade County as the area recovered from Hurricane Andrew.
She retired in 2002 and shifted her focus to the Carrie Meek Foundation, which she founded in November 2001, to provide the Miami-Dade community with much-needed resources, opportunities, and jobs. Meek spearheaded the Foundation’s daily operations until 2015 when she stepped down due to declining health.
Meek is survived by her children Lucia Davis-Raiford, Sheila Davis Kinui and Kendrick B. Meek, seven grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and multiple nieces and nephews.
In a statement, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava called Meek a “true trailblazer.”
“She was never afraid to use her voice to speak out against inequality or to fight for the disenfranchised and the vulnerable — and her towering legacy will continue to shape our community and the nation for generations to come,” Levine Cava said.
Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness also paid tribute to Meek, saying "I have learned a tremendous amount about politics and public service from her and enjoyed many years of attending her congressional classroom held annually at the Congressional Black Caucus annual events... Her legacy will live on for many generals to come."