Carrie P. Meek, a Democrat who became one of the first African Americans since Reconstruction elected to represent Florida in Congress, where she spent five terms championing services for the poor and expanded opportunities for minorities, died Nov. 28 at her home in Miami. She was 95.

Her family announced her death in a statement that did not cite a cause.

Meek won election to Congress in 1992 after serving four years in the Florida House and 10 years in the state Senate, where she was the first Black woman ever elected to the chamber.

Her political aspirations had been fueled by her experience of poverty and discrimination during the Jim Crow era of segregation. As a child, she recalled, shopkeepers did not permit her to try on shoes because a White child might later wear them. While White boys and girls frolicked on playgrounds and escaped the Florida heat in swimming pools, Black children of her generation had only an empty lot for their games.

“When I look back and see what I endured, there’s no wonder that I have some scars, even though I don’t see them,” Meek told The Washington Post in 1992. “When things happen, my rage can come up quickly and that rage, I’m sure, is buried within me from all those years, all those years, of living under the worst kind of segregation.”

In Washington, Meek represented a newly created district covering a demographically diverse stretch of Miami, with many African American constituents as well as sizable Caribbean, Arab and Korean communities.

Her intention, she told the Miami Herald when she took office, was to represent “the little people” – “the people I see at the flea market, the people that I talk to at the thrift shop, the people I see at the public housing tenants’ councils.”

A Republican colleague, Rep. E. Clay Shaw Jr., once told the Herald that Meek had “a velvet glove, but sometimes she can have a fist in it. She’s so likable that it’s sometimes disarming.”

Meek was the only freshman Democrat of her class to receive a seat on the Appropriations Committee, where she helped obtain $100 million in federal funds for recovery efforts after Hurricane Andrew ravaged Florida in 1992.

However devastating the effects of that storm, Meek told The Post that “there’s another kind of hurricane that’s worse,” referring to the social unrest that had periodically erupted in Miami over racial injustice, police brutality and poverty.

According to the Almanac of American Politics, Meek helped extend Social Security benefits to domestic employees such as nannies and played a role in the expansion of Supplemental Security Income. She also sought to increase job, business and banking opportunities for African Americans.

“We see showboats and we see tugboats,” Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., told the Herald in 1999. Meek is “a tugboat. I never want to be on the side of issues against her.”

After Democrats lost control of the House in the 1994 midterm elections, Meek became an outspoken critic of newly installed Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga. She denounced his book deal with a publishing house owned by the Australian billionaire Rupert Murdoch, an arrangement that originally included a $4.5 million advance. Under mounting scrutiny, Gingrich agreed to waive the advance and collect only royalties.

Nonetheless, “that is a whole lot of dust where I come from,” Meek said on the House floor in 1995. “If anything now, how much the speaker earns has grown much more dependent on how hard his publishing house hawks this book.”

Intervening in Meek’s address, the Republican member presiding over the chamber at the time ruled that “innuendo and personal reference to the speaker’s conduct is out of order.” On a party-line vote, Republicans elected to strike Meek’s comments from the Congressional Record.

Reporting on the incident, the New York Times described it as “the first significant breakdown of the etiquette that has generally prevailed in the two weeks that Republicans have held Congressional sway.”

The congresswoman, for her part, remarked that “I thought that my speech was actually very bland.”

Meek later challenged Republicans over the contested recount of the Florida results in the 2000 presidential election, in which Texas Republican Gov. George W. Bush ultimately prevailed over Democratic Vice President Al Gore. She charged that African Americans had been intimidated at the polls or turned away over questions about their identification.

“They are frustrated Black people who worked so hard for the right to vote; they died for the right to vote. And we have seen a presidential election here where people had that right denied, through intimidation,” Jet magazine quoted her as saying.

“Some Haitians are saying this is worse than an election in Haiti. What kind of superpower has an election like this?”

Meek, who consistently won reelection with ease, declined to seek a sixth term in 2002. She was succeeded by her son, Kendrick Meek, a former state legislator who held the seat for eight years before losing to Republican Marco Rubio in a run for a U.S. Senate seat in 2010.

Carrie Mae Pittman was born in Tallahassee on April 29, 1926, the youngest of 12 children. Her mother was a domestic and a cook who later ran a boardinghouse, and her father, a former laborer, was a rent collector. Both had worked as sharecroppers, and one of Meek’s grandmothers was born into slavery.

A talented athlete who excelled in track and basketball, Meek received a bachelor’s degree in physical education and biology from Florida A&M, a historically Black institution in Tallahassee, in 1946.

Prohibited from enrolling in graduate school in Florida because of her race, she received a master’s degree in physical education and public health at the University of Michigan in 1948.

Early in her career, Meek taught physical education and coached basketball at the historically Black Bethune-Cookman College (now University) in Daytona Beach, Fla. She later taught at Florida A&M and helped integrate what was then Miami-Dade Community College, where she became an associate dean and administrator.

She said that when she decided to seek a seat in the Florida House, leaders in the state and local Black communities doubted her ability to win.

“I think what they didn’t realize,” she told the publication Florida Trend in 2006, was “that I had been teaching college students all those years, which meant I had a constituency already, so I got elected.”

In Washington, Meek succeeded Democratic Rep. William Lehman, who retired after 10 terms in Congress. Having established herself in the state legislature, Meek won 83% of vote in the Democratic primary and had no opposition in the general election. When she took office, she was, at age 66, the oldest member of her freshman class.

Meek’s marriages to Lucius Davis and Harold Meek ended in divorce.

Survivors include two daughters from her first marriage, Lucia Davis-Raiford of Miami and Sheila Davis Kinui of New York City; her son, from her second marriage, of Miami; seven grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

After the episode involving Gingrich, Meek returned to address the House after Republican colleagues removed her comments from the official record – and uttered another remark that, in retrospect, seemed to encapsulate what she saw as her purpose in politics.

“There’s nothing in the rules of the House,” she observed, “that [says] Carrie Meek can’t speak the truth, and that’s what I’ve done.”

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