Former Florida Rep. Carrie Meek died at age 95 in her Miami home on Sunday. Known for her fiery speeches and trailblazing career, Meek was among the first class of Black Floridians elected to Congress post-Reconstruction.
According to ABC News, her family did not confirm a cause of death, only that she suffered a long illness.
Meek, the youngest of 12 children born to a sharecropper and laundress, won her first Congressional race at 66 years old in 1992 after she ran unopposed by Republican candidates for her Miami-Dade County seat. Before her bid for Congress, Meek was Miami-Dade Community College’s first Black professor, associate dean and assistant to the vice president, a member of Florida’s state House and the first Black woman voted to the state’s senate.
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.
“They always said the day would come when we would be recognized for our character,” she told The Associated Press in an interview that day.
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.
Meek retired in 2002 and was succeeded by her son Kendrick, who successfully held the seat for four terms. According to CNN, Meek ran the Carrie Meek Foundation, providing jobs and opportunities for the Miami-Dade community before her health caused her to step down in 2015.
“We see showboats and we see tugboats,’’ late Georgia Rep. John Lewis once said in 1999. “She’s a tugboat. I never want to be on the side of issues against her.’’
Members of Congress, including Democratic Rep. Darren Soto and GOP Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, tweeted out heartfelt messages about the legacy and memory that Meek leaves behind.
“Carrie Meek was a sweet, sweet spirit that permeated our community for many years. Her presence in a room spoke volumes for generations yet unborn. My thoughts and prayers are with her family,” tweeted Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson, who occupies the seat once held by Meek and her son and was mentored by her.