Florida Congressman Alcee Hastings died Tuesday, April 6, after a years-long battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 84.
In addition to serving over 30 years in public life after initially being elected to office in 1992, Hastings was a trailblazer in many ways. He was a passionate civil rights lawyer before becoming the first Black federal judge in Florida. But his path was not an easy one; and personal experiences further motivated Hastings to fight against racism and other injustices.
Several incidents occurred when Hastings first moved to Fort Lauderdale to accept a position at W. George Allen’s firm in 1964. Not only did motels refuse to rent him a room because he was Black, restaurants also refused to serve he and Allen
The son of a housemaid and butler, Hastings refused to take the injustices lying down. He and Allen worked with the NAACP to file lawsuits against the government and businesses for racial discrimination. . The duo was instrumental in bringing a lawsuit to desegregate Broward County schools, according to the Sun Sentinel.
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He also explained why riots were erupting in 1966. “Because no matter what they tell you, all is not right in colored town. When you have people living in squalor and seething desperation, with poor housing, miserable, menial jobs and inferior schools, you have the exact same situation they have in Watts,” Hastings said.
Though his historical judgeship was celebrated when he was appointed in 1979, Hastings didn’t get to serve his lifetime appointment. He was charged with conspiracy and obstruction of justice for requesting a $150,000 bribe from an undercover federal agent, but was acquiited in the case. Congress wasn’t so forgiving, however. They impeached him in 1988, but he rebuilt his career and was elected to Congress in 1992.
The Florida Rep. also faced other scandals, including being investigated for having an improper romantic relationship with a staffer, who subsequently turned out to be his wife, so he was cleared of wrongdoing as the rule did not apply to married couples.
Hastings was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2018 – and upon announcing it, he displayed the courage that had been typical of him throughout his career. “I have been convinced that this is a battle worth fighting, and my life is defined by fighting battles worth fighting,” Hastings said.
True to his outspoken and unapologetic nature, Hastings still served through his illness and remained an active member of Congress and even introduced the “Build America Act of 2021” aimed at adding $10 billion to federal infrastructure grant programs, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
Despite some of the controversy surrounding him, upon news of his death Hastings was remembered fondly by his peers and constituents alike.
“I am deeply saddened by the passing of my dear friend, colleague, and fellow Fiskite, Rep. Alcee Hastings. He leaves behind an enormous legacy for future generations to cherish and emulate,” fellow Florida Congresswoman Frederica Wilson tweeted.
Jules Management Group founder Kerline Jules posted a moving tribute to Hastings on Facebook. She remembered how Hastings sponsored her program fee and travel for the “Congressional Black Caucus Institute 8-Day Political Boot Camp” despite not knowing her. She said the institute “had a major impact on my life and built some lasting, impactful relationships.”
“Truth be told…I was surprised that he even considered my request…I wasn’t one of his staff aids, mentees…the man didn’t know me, but he gave me a chance, and that’s something I will never forget,” Jules continued. “I loved Hastings because he didn’t give a f****; he unapologetically spoke truth to power. He wasn’t scared of anybody; he fought for his community.”
President Joe Biden agreed, noting he admired Hastings’ “singular sense of humor, and for always speaking the truth bluntly and without reservation” in a statement.
“Alcee was outspoken because he was passionate about helping our nation live up to its full promise for all Americans,” the president said in a statement. “Across his long career of public service, Alcee always stood up to fight for equality, and always showed up for the working people he represented. And even in his final battle with cancer, he simply never gave up.”
Former longtime Broward County Public defender Howard Finkelstein said many of the issues Hastings faced were a result of being a brilliant and courageous Black man with influence.
“In the ’60s, the ’70s, the ’80s, the government only — only — only went after Black men that ascended to power,” Finkelstein told the Sun Sentinel. “That is what they did, and they came after Alcee — all the king’s horses and all the king’s men — with everything they had to destroy this man.”
Hasting was re-elected 14 times, making him the dean of the Florida Congressional delegation. He is survived by his wife, Patricia Williams; children Alcee “Jody” Hastings II, Chelsea Hastings and Leah Hastings, and a stepdaughter, Maisha Williams.
Flags at Florida’s capitol are being flown at half-staff in his honor.