FAMU LAW News

Gwendolyn Sawyer Cherry, Legacy Award

Gwendolyn Sawyer Cherry was born in Miami, Florida in 1923; she was a pioneer in the state of Florida’s legal profession. As an African American woman she became the first to break many barriers.

Admitted to the Florida Bar in 1965, Cherry was the first black woman to practice law in Dade County, Florida. She was also one of the first nine attorneys to initially serve at Legal Services of Greater Miami. Following her election in 1970, Cherry was the first black woman to serve as a legislator from the state of Florida. Cherry served four terms as a representative and during that time she introduced the Equal Rights amendment, the Martin Luther King Jr, State Holiday and other legislation.  Cherry also chaired the 1978 state’s committee for International Women’s Year and co-authored a book with Pauline Willis and Ruby Thomas titled Portraits in Color: the Lives of Colorful Negro Women. Cherry was also at the forefront of political action committees chairing  both the Minority Affairs Committee for Democratic National Convention and the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1972. During this time Cherry served as legal counsel for the Miami Chapter of the National Organization of Women (NOW)

Prior to her career in law and politics, Cherry received her undergraduate degree and later her Juris Doctorate from Florida A&M Mechanical University. She taught in Miami public schools for more than 20 years. After becoming an attorney she also served as a law professor at FAMU College of Law. Cherry was an active member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., serving as its legal advisor at the time of her death.

Cherry died in a car accident in 1979, but her contributions to the law and professional women will long be remembered. FAMU’s College of Law dedicated a lecture hall in her name, and Miami-Dade County named a park in her honor. She was also inducted posthumously into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame. Florida A&M University College of Law is proud to honor Gwendolyn Sawyer Cherry with its first Legacy Award, presented during the inaugural Distinguished Alumni ceremony in May 2015.The award was sponsored by Wal-Mart.