Congressman Alcee Hastings, who died on April 6 after battling cancer, is hailed as a civil rights icon who lived with an indelible fighting spirit dedicated to equal justice.
BY DAPHNE TAYLOR
Congressman Alcee Hastings wrote the foreword for Elvin Dowling’s Pulitzer-nominated book, “Still Invisible? Examining America’s Black Male Crisis.’’
Dowling found himself all over television last week talking about his friend and mentor of 30 years.
On April 6, he learned that U.S. Rep. Alcee Lamar Hastings had died in his Palm Beach County home, succumbing to stage 4 pancreatic cancer, which he had battled since 2018. He was 84.
“I never wanted this day to come,” Dowling told the Florida Courier on April 6 between TV station interviews about his mentor. “I am shocked and selfish. I’ve been thinking about myself…. how I’m going to live without his presence.”
But many are thinking the same because the congressman’s influence was so profound and reverberated nationwide. He had an Infectious smile, a beaming personality and gave so much of himself to the people, especially to those who had nothing to give back.
First Black federal judge
Politically, he was a giant. He crusaded against racial injustice as a civil rights attorney, became a federal judge who was impeached, but then went on to win 15 congressional elections, making him Florida’s senior member of Congress.
It was in 1979 that President Jimmy Carter nominated him to the U.S. District Court, making him Florida’s first Black federal judge.
Over the years, whenever he faced an opponent to Congress, he usually won by a landslide.
He represented mostly African American and Caribbean populations in Broward and Palm Beach counties in Florida’s 20th congressional district, but more recently that expanded to several additional smaller counties.
His congressional seat will be filled in a special election with a timeframe to be announced by Governor Ron DeSantis.
Reflections from Biden, Wilson
President Biden referenced his fondness for Hastings in a statement Tuesday, noting that he got to know the congressman while he was in the Senate and as vice president of the United States.
“I greatly admired him for his singular sense of humor and for always speaking the truth bluntly and without reservation. He was a trailblazing lawyer who grew up in the Jim Crow South, who was outspoken because he was passionate about helping our nation live up to its full promise for all Americans.”
Friend and fellow congressional colleague Frederica Wilson was a longtime friend of Hastings and says she was not only a friend but was an admirer of his dedication to the people.
“I am deeply saddened by the passing of my dear friend, colleague and fellow Fiskite. He was the first African American man to be elected to Congress from Florida. He was a giant freedom fighter for the lost and the left out, especially Black communities,’’ she said.
“He feared no man, he feared no institution and was not shy about voicing his dissent on any issue. Throughout his illness, he worked hard and long hours until he was unable to do so, and even then he instructed his staff daily about how to help his constituents recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure they had the resources they needed. He will be sorely missed.”
The son of Julius and Mildred Hastings was born on Sept. 5, 1936, in Altamonte Springs. His parents were domestic workers.
Hastings has always been a proponent of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), having attended three himself. He earned his undergraduate degree from Fisk University in 1958, then he attended Howard Law School and got his law degree from Florida A&M University in 1963.
FAMU issued a statement about his passing.
“Florida A&M University joins with the family of Congressman Alcee Hastings in mourning his loss,” said President Larry Robinson, Ph.D.
FAMU College of Law Dean Deidre Keller added, “It is with great sadness that the FAMU College of Law acknowledges the passing of its esteemed alumnus. He is a true friend to the re-established College of Law.”
Hastings’ family concurred in their statement that his love for helping the people was expansive and far-reaching.
“He lived a life of triumph over adversity and his brilliance and compassion was felt amongst his constituents, colleagues, the nation and the world. He lived a full life with an indelible fighting spirit dedicated to equal justice. He believed that progress and change can only be achieved through recognizing and respecting the humanity of all mankind,’’ the family stated.
Hastings is survived by his wife, Patricia Williams, and three adult children plus a stepdaughter. His request was to not have a homegoing celebration to honor his life.