MIAMI — Carrie Meek, the first Black person to represent Florida in Congress since Reconstruction and a fierce advocate for Black communities in the state, died Sunday, her family said. She was 95.
Meek died at her home in Miami after a long illness, family spokesperson Adam Sharon said in a statement. No cause of death was given, according to The Associated Press.
The granddaughter of slaves and daughter of sharecroppers, Meek served as a state representative and state senator and was elected to Congress at the age of 66, the Miami Herald reported.
She never lost a reelection campaign and retired in 2002, the newspaper reported.
Meek championed causes in her Miami-Dade district, including affirmative action and economic opportunities for the poor, according to the AP. She spoke out against discrimination of Afro-Cubans by Cuba’s government and traveled to Ghana to celebrate that country’s independence, the Herald reported. She also fought for the rights of Haitian immigrants to live in the U.S., the newspaper reported.
“She was one of the first champions of Haitian rights in this community, one of the first voices raised not just in Congress but at the State legislature, advocating for support for Haitian refugees in this community, the need for education for refugee children,” Gepsie Metellus, the founder of Sant La Haitian Neighborhood Center, told the Herald. “She was always that voice shaming the legislature to do more and when she got to Congress, she continued it.”
Meek was also known for her liberal opinions, and her criticism of the Republican Party.
“The last Republican that did something for me was Abraham Lincoln,” she told the state delegation to the 1996 Democratic Convention in Chicago.
Alcee Hastings and Corrine Brown joined Meek in January 1993 as the first Black Floridians to serve in Congress since 1876, according to the AP.
Meek was born April 29, 1926, in Tallahassee, Florida, the daughter of Willie and Carrie Pittman, the newspaper reported. Her parents were sharecroppers and Willie Pittman later became a caretaker, the Herald reported. Carrie Pittman was a laundress and owned a boarding house.
Meek told the Washington Post in a 1992 interview that as a child, she couldn’t try on shoes in stores because she was Black.
Despite being a track and field star and earning a degree in biology and physical education at Florida A&M University in 1946, Meek was not allowed to pursue a master’s degree in Florida, the Herald reported. She would earn her master’s in physical education at the University of Michigan. She later earned a master’s in public health at Michigan.
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