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Carrie Meek, the grandchild of a slave and pioneering Black former congresswoman, dies at 95

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Carrie Meek, the grandchild of a slave and pioneering Black former congresswoman, dies at 95

2021-11-29 05:18:11

By Ravi Kumar  Image Source: Screen Shot

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 is survived by her three children, seven grandchildren and five great grandchildren.

Former Rep., who broke barriers throughout her winding political career died at her home in Miami after a long illness, family spokesperson Adam Sharon said in a statement describing the late Florida Democrat's "trailblazing" life and legacy. The family did not specify a cause of death.

Meek was born in Tallahassee, Florida in 1926, according to her congressional biography. After serving as Miami-Dade Community College's first Black professor, associate dean and assistant to the vice president, Meek beat out 12 other candidates when she ran for the Florida state House in 1978. Just five years later, she became the first Black woman elected to the state senate.

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.

On her first day in Congress, Meek reflected that while her grandmother, a slave on a Georgia farm, could never have dreamed of such an accomplishment, her parents told her that anything was possible.

Meek would go on to leverage her career in state government into a successful US House campaign in 1992. Alongside former Reps. Corrine Brown and Alcee Hastings, Meek joined Congress as one of the first Black members elected since the Reconstruction Era.

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 her constituents. She also was known for her liberal opinions, folksy yet powerful oratory and colorful Republican bashing.

“The last Republican that did something for me was Abraham Lincoln,” she told the state delegation to the 1996 Democratic Convention in Chicago.

For the next decade, she used her legislative perch to push a range of Democratic priorities from immigration reform to economic development. ''We see showboats and we see tugboats,'' late civil rights legend Rep. John Lewis said in 1999 of the different legislative styles in Congress. ''She's a tugboat. I never want to be on the side of issues against her.''

Meek retired in 2002 and was succeeded by her son Kendrick, who ran successfully for her House seat and held it for four terms.

Following her congressional career, Meek shifted her focus to the Carrie Meek Foundation, which worked to provide the Miami-Dade community with jobs and opportunities, according to the statement provided by Sharon. She ran the foundation's operations until 2015 when "declining health" forced her step down. 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

Carrie Pittman was born to Willie and Carrie Pittman in Tallahassee on April 29, 1926, and was the youngest of 12 children. Her father worked in nearby fields as a sharecropper and her mother took in laundry from white families.

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 was a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority.

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.

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