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Annie Brown Kennedy, a longtime attorney and the first Black woman to serve in North Carolina’s state legislature, passed away at 98 on Tuesday, Jan. 17, according to family members.
The trailblazing Democrat first rose to the state legislature in 1979, when former Governor Jim Hunt (D) appointed her to fill a vacancy.
Kenney “was a real scrapper when it came to getting opportunities for people…she made no bones about that,” Hunt said, according to the Associated Press. “I was real proud to have an opportunity to appoint her.”
Governor Roy Cooper ordered all U.S. and North Carolina flags at state facilities to half-staff until sunset on Friday in honor of Brown, according to WTVD.
Annie Brown Kennedy remembered as a true advocate
During a time of immense social and political pushback against the gains made during the Civil Rights Movement, Annie Brown Kennedy boldly fought for her community.
After being appointed, she lost her election in 1980. Yet two years later, she returned to the state Capitol, serving for 13 years. Kennedy passionately pushed for paid family leave and successfully prevented Winston-Salem University from shutting down its nursing program, according to her son Harvard Kennedy, who spoke with the Winston-Salem Journal.
“She was a wonderful mother,” he added. “She was a trailblazer.”
Blazing a trail for others to follow
Born in Atlanta on October 13, 1934, Kennedy graduated from HBCUs Spelman College and Howard University law school, according to a biography. She later became one of the first Black women to open a law practice in the state with her husband, Harold Kennedy Jr. It was a family affair, as two of their three sons joined them at the law firm, focusing on family law and civil litigation.
She continued to advocate for marginalized communities as a member of the Association of Women Attorneys, the NAACP, the YWCA, League of Women Voters, and United Way.
Current U.S. Rep. Alma Adams, D-N.C., credited Annie Brown Kennedy as a mentor who helped guide her when she first joined the state House in the 1990s.
“She helped guide me, and I admired her because she was a brilliant woman, a brilliant attorney and the consummate stateswoman,” Adams said. “She was always genuine, kind and supportive. She wasn’t loud in her speaking, but always spoke with strength.”
A plaque inside the Legislative Building in Raleigh honors her achievements.