Black Firsts in Florida
Jonathan Clarkson Gibbs (1827–1879). First African American to serve on the Florida Cabinet when he was chosen as Secretary of State in 1868 by Governor Harrison Reed. As superintendent of public instruction in 1873, he established the state’s first public school system.
Michael A. Calhoun. Appointed by Governor Scott in 2015 as the First African American to serve as the Adjutant General of Florida. Graduated from Florida A&M in 1977, and has served both as an enlisted soldier and officer for over 30 years. Deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom 2003–2004, and supported Hurricane Katrina relief operations in Mississippi in 2005.
Joe Lang Kershaw, civics teacher. First African American since Reconstruction elected to the Florida Legislature. Served as a Democratic House member from Dade County for 14 years (1968–1982). His most famous issue was “Axe the Cane Pole Tax,” which succeeded in reversing a state tax on cane pole fishing, a popular form of African American recreation and food supply.
Gwen Sawyer Cherry, Miami Democrat. First African American woman ever to serve in the Florida House of Representatives, elected in 1970. A Florida A&M cum laude graduate in law, she was killed in a car accident in 1979 in Tallahassee.
Carrie P. Meek, Miami Democrat. First African American woman ever elected to the Florida Senate and the first black to serve since Reconstruction. She was elected in 1979 to succeed Mrs. Cherry. A former track star at Florida A&M, Sen. Meek is noted for her humanitarian causes.
Dr. Arnett E. Girardeau, dentist and Jacksonville Democrat. First African American man elected to the Florida Senate in 1982. He defeated three whites and another African American in winning his first term.
Judge Henry L. Adams, 1979, appointed by Governor Bob Graham. First African-American ever appointed to the Fourth Judicial Circuit Court bench. 1993, appointed by President Bill Clinton to serve as a United States District Court Judge for the Middle District of Florida.
Judge Marva L. Crenshaw, Second District Court of Appeal, 2009, appointed by Governor Charlie Crist. 13th Judicial Circuit Judge, 2000, appointed by Governor Jeb Bush. First African-American woman to serve as Circuit Court judge for the 13th Judicial Circuit Court.
Melvia Green, Dade County Circuit Judge, 1989. First African American woman circuit judge.
Judge Hubert L. Grimes, Seventh Judicial Circuit Judge, 1999, appointed by Governor Jeb Bush. First African-American to serve as circuit court judge for the seventh circuit.
Joseph W. Hatchett, Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals, 11th Circuit, appointed by President Jimmy Carter. First African American since Reconstruction to serve on Florida’s Supreme Court (1975–79). First African American elected to remain on the court; first African American elected to public office in a statewide election in the South.
Justice James E.C. Perry, Florida Supreme Court, 2009, appointed by Governor Charlie Crist. 18th Judicial Circuit Court Judge, 2000, appointed by Governor Jeb Bush. First African-American ever appointed to the 18th Circuit Court bench.
Leander J. Shaw, Jr., appointed to Florida Supreme Court in 1983, retained by statewide vote. First African American judge to become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, for a two-year term (1990–92).
Lawson E. Thomas, Judge, Miami Police Court, 1950. First African American judge in the south since Reconstruction.
Justice Peggy Ann Quince, Florida Supreme Court, 1998. First African-American woman appointed to the Florida Supreme Court, appointed by Governor Jeb Bush and the late Governor Lawton Chiles. Quince was also the first African-American female to be appointed to one of the district courts of appeal in 1993 by Governor Lawton Chiles to the Second District Court of Appeal.
Leah Aleice Simms, Dade County Judge. First African American woman judge in Florida, appointed by Governor Bob Graham in 1981.
Judge Sandra Edwards-Stephens, 5th Judicial Circuit Court judge, 2000, appointed by Governor Jeb Bush. First African-American ever appointed to the 5th Circuit Court bench.
Thomas E. Stringer, Sr., Second District Court of Appeal Judge, 1999, appointed to the Second District Court of Appeals by Governor Jeb Bush. First African-American graduate of the Stetson University College of Law in 1974.
Judge Joyce H. Williams, Escambia County Court Judge, 2005, appointed by Governor Jeb Bush. First African American woman to serve as a County Court judge in the 1st Judicial Court.
Judge Karla Foreman Wright, Polk County Court Judge, 2000, appointed by Governor Jeb Bush First African American woman to serve on the Polk County bench.
Judge Nikki Ann Clark, First District Court of Appeal, 2009, appointed by Governor Charlie Crist. The first African American and the first woman to serve on Florida’s Second Judicial Circuit in Tallahassee.
Judge Kathy Garner, Gadsden County Judge, 2009, first African-American and first woman appointed to Gadsden County bench.