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Congressman Alcee Hastings’ legacy includes support of Seminole Tribe, environment

ep. Alcee Hastings participates with Seminole leaders in a ribbon cutting ceremony in 2011 for the opening of Eight Clans Bridge in Big Cypress. (File photo)

U.S. Representative Alcee Hastings, a longtime supporter of and advocate for the Seminole Tribe, passed away at age 84 on April 6.

Elected in 1992, Hastings was the longest serving representative from Florida at the time of his passing. During his tenure in the House, Hastings was an ardent supporter of the tribe and sponsored or co-sponsored 31 bills to help Native Americans.

Hastings’ latest bill, H.R. 164, would allow the tribe to purchase property without federal approval. The bill was carried over from the previous Congressional session and re-introduced Jan. 4.

While he was a U.S. District judge in 1979, Hastings ruled in favor of the tribe in its lawsuit against Sheriff Bob Butterworth, who fought against the tribe’s high stakes bingo games. Hastings’ and Judge Norman Rotteger’s ruling was upheld in the U.S. Court of Appeals, leading the way to Indian gaming.

In 2011, Hastings participated with tribal leaders in the ribbon cutting and opening of the Eight Clans Bridge on Snake Road in Big Cypress.

Hastings was a friend of the environment and in 2012 praised President Barack Obama’s investment in Everglades restoration efforts.

“With the Everglades making up a large portion of my Congressional district, I am acutely aware of the vital role restoration of this national treasure plays in the health and prosperity of South Florida,” Hastings wrote in a statement. “While progress has been made on restoring the Everglades, we still have a long way to go to ensure that there is clean water for future generations of Floridians.”

In one of his last actions in Congress on March 4, 2021, Hastings and Everglades Caucus co-chair Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart sent a bipartisan letter from the entire Florida Congressional delegation to President Joe Biden requesting that $725 million for Everglades restoration be included in Biden’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2022. The letter stated that South Florida Everglades restoration is crucial to Florida’s health, economy, biodiversity and climate resiliency.
After his passing, Biden praised Hastings in a statement.

“I greatly admired him for his singular sense of humor and for always speaking the truth bluntly and without reservation,” Biden said. “A trailblazing lawyer who grew up in the Jim Crow South, Alcee was outspoken because he was passionate about helping our nation live up to its full promise for all Americans. It was a passion he forged as a pioneering civil rights lawyer in the 1960s, fighting tirelessly to desegregate hotels, restaurants, and public spaces in South Florida — a trailblazing spirit to advocate for what is right that guided him throughout his life.”

Hastings began his career in 1964 as a civil rights lawyer in Fort Lauderdale. In 1977, Gov. Reuben Askew appointed him to the bench as a Broward Circuit Court judge. President Jimmy Carter nominated him in 1979 to the U.S. District Court, where he became the state’s first Black federal judge.

Although Hastings was acquitted of charges in a bribery case in 1983, Congress impeached and removed him from the bench in 1989. Just three years later, he ran for Congress and won the seat in the House, making him Florida’s first Black Congressman since the Civil War. He served 15 terms in office and was the dean of Florida’s House delegation.

He was always a strong advocate for minorities, women and immigrants.

The Democratic congressman of Florida’s 20th Congressional District was remembered by his peers in the House at a ceremony held in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol on April 21. Speakers included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, among others.

“It is fitting we honor Alcee in Statuary Hall because Alcee was an historic force in our democracy,” Pelosi said. “Alcee’s life was the story of America; the son of domestic workers who became one of the most influential members of Congress. But he was not content just to live the American dream, he insisted that others had that opportunity, too, and share in that promise. He was a champion for the most vulnerable, his crusade for justice knew no bounds.”
Wasserman Schultz fought back tears as she spoke about her “treasured friend and true mentor.”

“Alcee loved the 20th District — from Belle Glade to Broward, and the Sawgrass to Sistrunk — he was Florida through and through,” said Wasserman Schultz, co-chair of the Florida delegation. “He valued every part of the cultural and ethnic mosaic that enriches our great state. We’ve lost a brilliant, fearless, giant-hearted advocate for the place he so dearly loved. And here in Congress, one less wise, patient and compassionate statesman walks our halls.”

Hastings was born in central Florida to parents who were both domestic workers. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Fisk University in Nashville, attended law school at Howard University in Washington, D.C. and received his law degree from Florida A&M in 1963.

“He rose from young man in the orange groves of the segregated south to become the first African American federal jurist from Florida and part of the historic 1992 class of the U.S. Congress,” Wasserman Schultz said.

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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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