Former U.S. Congresswoman Carrie Meek dead at 95

Meek's children said she was "a bridge builder and healer, a unifier with a legacy defined by selfless public service."

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Carrie Meek, a trailblazing politician who became Florida’s first Black woman state senator and one of the first African Americans elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from the state since the Reconstruction era, died Sunday. 

Meek, who served as a Democrat, was 95 years old. 

This 2008 photo shows former Florida Congresswoman Carrie Meek, who died Sunday, recalling her time serving in the legislature on Senate Reunion Day in Tallahassee, Fla. (Photo: AP)

According to a statement provided to CNN by her family, Meek’s death followed a “long illness.” Her children Lucia Davis-Raiford, Sheila Davis Kinui and retired Rep. Kendrick B. Meek of Florida wrote “Carrie Meek was our family matriarch who fulfilled this role for the entire South Florida community.” 

“She was a bridge builder and healer,” they contended, “a unifier with a legacy defined by selfless public service. Forever the educator, the Congresswoman taught us all lessons about justice and morality. Her approach was rooted in kindness and humility.” 

“Carrie Meek made our society stronger and more equitable — an outcome that is an everlasting tribute to our beloved mother,” her children said. “She was guided by her faith, always inspired by the outpouring of love and community support. We humbly ask for your prayers at this time.”

In addition to her three children, Meek is survived by seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

This January 2009 photo shows former Congresswoman Carrie Meek (left) looking on as her son, Rep. Kendrick B. Meek (right), announces his plans on running for office. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A native of Tallahassee, Meek was the daughter of a sharecropper and the granddaughter of a woman who had been born enslaved. She was the youngest of 12 children and had been a track-and-field star in college at Florida A&M University. According to her congressional biography, Meek enrolled at the University of Michigan to earn her master’s degree in public health and physical education because Florida had banned Black students from attending state graduate schools. 

Meek returned to Florida, where she coached basketball and taught biology and physical education at Bethune Cookman College. She later taught at FAMU and Miami-Dade Community College as its first Black professor, associate dean and assistant to the vice president. 

In 1978, Meek defeated 12 other candidates to be elected to the Florida statehouse, toiling four years before voters then chose her to serve as Florida’s first Black woman state senator. A successful run for Congress in 1992, at the age 66, made her a force for change next to fellow Sunshine State lawmakers Corrine Brown and Alcee Hastings. In the House of Representatives, Meek served on the Appropriations Committee for most of her career. 

Meek was focused on health issues and was instrumental in the federal law that added a warning label to cigarettes. 

She declined to run for re-election in 2002, and her son, Kendrick, was elected in her stead, becoming only the second child to directly succeed a parent in Congress. 

In an interview about his mother for the Congressional archives, Kendrick Meek said, “She shared those experiences with me to make sure that I was well-rooted and understood the experience in Florida, which she, in many ways, was able to use … as a policymaker. I think that’s what made her so powerful.”

Condolences for the Meek family and remembrances of the pioneer legislator’s legacy flooded social media after news of her passing spread.

“Today, with great sadness over her passing, the Congress and Country mourn the loss and celebrate the life of former Congresswoman Carrie Meek: a remarkable, trailblazing leader who helped expand opportunity in America,” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi tweeted early Monday. “She not only made history but made progress for our nation.”

Also on Twitter, the Rev. Al Sharpton wrote, “Saddened to hear of the passing of former Congresswoman Carrie Meek. She was a true and tested warrior for justice and an effective game changing legislator. May she Rest In Peace and Power. Our prayers to Her son Kendrick and the Meek family at this hour of their loss.”

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