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U.S. leaders, colleagues pay tribute to pioneering Black lawmaker Carrie Meek

U.S. leaders, colleagues pay tribute to pioneering Black lawmaker Carrie Meek
The late former Rep. Carrie Meek (C) is shown prior to delivering testimony to a Senate subcommittee on national parks on June 12, 2002, in Washington D.C. Also pictured are former Reps. Zach Wamp of Tennessee (L) and Eni F.H. Faleomavaega of American Samoa (R). File Photo by Mia Aigotti/UPI | License Photo

Nov. 29 (UPI) -- Tributes to trailblazing Black congresswoman Carrie Meek of Florida poured in from across the country Monday, a day after her death in Miami at age 95.

Meek, the grandchild of a slave and daughter of a sharecropper who rose to become one of the first Black Floridians elected to Congress since the Civil War, died after a long illness, family spokesperson Adam Sharon said in a statement provided Sunday to CNN.

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Among those remembering Meek was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who called the former lawmaker "a champion for opportunity and progress"

"Congresswoman Meek was a remarkable, trailblazing leader who helped expand opportunity in America," she said in a statement. "At every level of her historic service -- from the statehouse to the U.S. House -- she not only made history but made progress for our nation."

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"Saddened to hear of the passing of former Congresswoman Carrie Meek," civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton said in a Twitter post. "She was a true and tested warrior for justice and an effective game changing legislator. May she Rest In Peace and Power."

Born in 1926 in Tallahassee, Fla., Meek was the youngest of 12 children. After starring in track and field while earning an undergraduate degree at Florida A&M University, she completed a master's degree in public health and physical education at the University of Michigan in 1948, according to her official biography.

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After spending three decades teaching and working in college administration at Miami-Dade Community College, Meek won election to the Florida House of Representatives in 1978 and later served for a decade in the state senate -- the first Black woman elected to the senate and the first Black legislator to serve there in more than a century.

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In 1992 at age 66, Meek won election to Congress in a district covering Miami's northern suburbs in Dade County. Along with Corrine Brown and Alcee Lamar Hastings that year, she was among the first three Black lawmakers to serve in Congress from Florida since the mid-1870s.

She easily won all four of her re-election contests, eventually retiring from Congress in 2002.

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"I feel as though we have lost a community treasure, someone who has probably had more influence in the legislative body than almost anyone coming from South Florida," former Miami-Dade College President Eduardo Padron told WFOR-TV in Miami.

"She always stood on the courage of her convictions," he added. "She was an incredibly passionate advocate for the things she believed in. Carrie really cared for the underserved more than anyone I've met in my many years in Miami."

"I am deeply saddened by the passing of my predecessor Congresswoman Carrie Meek," Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., said in Twitter post. "She was a true champion for Black communities in Florida and throughout the world. She mentored me throughout my political career and was a role model for politicians."

Notable deaths of 2021

Betty White attends the media preview for the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association's Beastly Ball fundraiser at the Los Angeles Zoo in Los Angeles on June 11, 2015. The actress died December 31. She was 99 years old. Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

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