In life, Carrie P. Meek was a mother, teacher and activist who brought the demands of Miami’s most vulnerable to the halls of power in Tallahassee and Washington. In death, she brought the country’s most powerful politicians to Miami Gardens, where they charged everyone to pick up where she left off.
Elected officials, ministers and hundreds of others touched by Meek’s work joined her family Tuesday at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church to honor the legacy of a woman who championed the voiceless at every turn.
U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty described Meek as “iconic,” “legend” and “phenomenal.” Rev. Hugh Westbrook praised her ability to stand up for what’s right. Kendrick Meek, her son who later succeeded her in Congress, implored the audience to embrace her philosophy.
Meek, 95, died Nov. 28 after decades of work to expand the possibilities for Black and brown children. The granddaughter of slaves, Meek was one of the first Black lawmakers to represent Florida in Congress since Reconstruction. That feat, along with her knack for reaching across the aisle, brought out a host of well-wishers ranging from former Congressman Lincoln Díaz-Balart to President Bill Clinton and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“Countless slaves tunneled to freedom because one woman led the way, the Civil Rights Movement was invigorated because one woman refused to move and the entire community prospered because one woman cared,” U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson told the audience, referring to Harriett Tubman, Rosa Parks and Meek.
The funeral carried an air of regality, yet in true Meek fashion contained moments of disarming humor meant to move others to action.
Two trumpeters led Meek’s copper-colored casket, adorned with a tremendous display of yellow and white flowers, down the aisle, her extended family in tow. Just as the family took their seats to the choir’s bellowing of “Total Praise,” Rev. Gaston E. Smith issued a warning given by Meek herself — essentially, don’t let my funeral run on forever — that produced a groundswell of laughter from the crowd.
In a video tribute, Clinton professed his “love” for Meek because she “got things done.” Rep. Steny Hoyer, who served with Meek in Congress, recounted her countless firsts — including first Black teacher at Miami Dade College and first Black woman to serve in the Florida Senate — that “blazed a trail for others to follow.”
“Whether it was for women, for African Americans or for others who have not been seen in places of power or service, Carrie pushed the doors open,” Hoyer said.
The funeral brought an end to the three-day celebration held in Meek’s honor.
On Sunday, the family held a viewing at Booker T. Washington High School, while a wake took place Monday evening at Miami Dade College’s North Campus. Wednesday’s funeral was proceeded by the procession’s winding tour of Liberty City with brief stops at Miami Dade College’s Carrie P Meek Entrepreneurial Education Center, the Carrie P. Meek/Westview K-8 Center and the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center.
“They built Martin Luther King Park, they built a number of other of parks and recreational programs” in Liberty City because of Meek’s early work, Kendrick told the limousine’s passengers. “That’s what helped her” political career.
Meek’s daughter Sheila Davis Kinui echoed a similar sentiment during the family’s recorded tribute at the funeral.
“I think people voted for her because they could sense her personal integrity, they could sense her honesty and they could sense her ability to get things done on their behalf,” Kinui said.
The work ethic that Kinui mentioned was why the late Congressman John Lewis often compared her to a tugboat. Several speakers mentioned the comparison, including Majority Whip U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, who delivered Meek’s eulogy. After reading the last will and testament of Mary McLeod Bethune, one of Meek’s favorite people, Clyburn ended with an implicit request of the audience to forward her legacy.
“Rest in the pleasant dreams you have earned, my dearest Carrie,” he said. “You’ve gone on to meet Ms. Bethune and the others whose shoulders you stood on and you leave us here to continue standing on yours.”