Gwen Cherry

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Gwendolyn "Gwen" Sawyer Cherry (1923–1979) was a teacher, state legislator, and lawyer in Florida. As an African American, much of her career was pioneering.

Early life[edit]

Cherry was born in Miami, Florida in 1923. She attended Florida Agricultural Mechanics University (FAMU) where she received her undergraduate degree and, later, her Juris Doctorate. She taught in the Miami Public Schools for more than 20 years, and she also served as a law professor at FAMU. She was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1965, and she became the first African-American woman to practice law in Dade County.[1]

Political career[edit]

After careers as a teacher and a lawyer, Cherry was elected to the Florida House in 1970, becoming the first African-American woman to serve as a state legislator in Florida. During her four terms, she introduced the Equal Rights Amendment and the Martin Luther King, Jr. state holiday, chaired the state's committee for International Women's Year in 1978, and co-authored Portraits in Color: the Lives of Colorful Negro Women with Pauline Willis and Ruby Thomas.[2][3] She also chaired the Minority Affairs Committee for the Democratic National Convention and the National Women's Political Caucus in 1972 while serving as legal counsel for the National Organization for Women (NOW)'s Miami chapter.[1]

Legacy[edit]

Cherry died in a Tallahassee car accident in February 1979. In his eulogy, former state governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham called Gwen Cherry "a champion for the rights of all people and a voice of reason and concern." She was inducted, posthumously, into the Florida Women's Hall of Fame in 1986. FAMU's College of Law dedicated a lecture hall in her name. Miami-Dade County, Florida named a park after her which dedicates itself to helping educate children and helping at-risk youths.[4] The Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers Association (GSCBWLA) formed in 1985 to address the concerns of women lawyers in the community. While it was originally called the National Bar Association Women Lawyers Division Dade County Chapter, it was decided in 2005 to be renamed in Cherry's honor.[5]

References[edit]