WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Annie Brown Kennedy, an attorney who was the first Black woman to serve in the North Carolina General Assembly, has died at age 98, a family member said.
Kennedy, a Democrat who first joined the House in 1979 to fill a vacancy, died Tuesday from natural causes at her home in Winston-Salem, according to Harvey Kennedy, one of her sons. A plaque inside the Legislative Building in Raleigh recognizes her pioneering achievement.
"She was a wonderful mother," Kennedy told the Winston-Salem Journal. "She was a trailblazer."
Kennedy ran unsuccessfully to keep her House seat in 1980, but was elected to return to Raleigh two years later, the newspaper reported. She served in the chamber for another decade. Her son said she worked for passage of paid family leave and successfully prevented the Winston-Salem State University nursing program from being shuttered by other lawmakers.
An Atlanta native, Annie Kennedy graduated from Spelman College and the Howard University law school, according to a written biography.
Her son said she was also among the first African American female attorneys in North Carolina and first women to practice law in Forsyth County. She and her husband, Harold Kennedy Jr., created a law partnership that included two of their three sons and focused on family law and civil litigation, the newspaper reported.
Former Gov. Jim Hunt, who formally appointed Kennedy to the legislative seat in 1979, said she "was a real scrapper when it came to getting opportunities for people ... she made no bones about that. I was real proud to have an opportunity to appoint her."
U.S. Rep. Alma Adams, D-N.C., said Kennedy was a mentor to her when she 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."
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.
He released a statement Thursday saying:
"My friend, Rep. Annie Brown Kennedy, was an extraordinary public servant who paved the way for future leaders in our state as the first African American woman to serve in the NC General Assembly," Governor Cooper said. "Our prayers are with her family and loved ones at this time."