Frederica S. Wilson was born on November 5, 1942 in Miami’s Overtown community, but was raised in nearby Liberty City. The daughter of Beulah Finley and Thirlee Smith, a small business owner and local civil rights activist, she learned the value of community activism from a young age. Her brother, the late Thirlee Smith, Jr., rose to become the first full-time African American reporter at the Miami Herald.
Wilson earned her Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from Fisk University in 1963 and her Master of Science in Elementary Education from the University of Miami in 1972. She served as a teacher and as assistant educational coordinator for Head Start in Miami. For a short time, she left the working world to raise her three children, but the calling of education proved too strong. She returned to serve as the assistant principal of Skyway Elementary School, later becoming the school’s principal. From 1992 to 1998, she served on the Miami-Dade County School Board, where she helped introduced an African American history component into the teaching curriculum.
In 1998, Wilson successfully ran for a seat in the Florida State House of Representatives, where she served until 2002. From 2002 to 2010, she served in the Florida State Senate, where she served as Minority Leader Pro Tempore and as Minority Lead Whip. She soon became known as the “Conscience of the Senate” for her willingness to tackle historically ignored issues. Her achievements include working with Republican Governor Jeb Bush to remove the Confederate flag from the State Capitol, mandating HIV/AIDS testing for newly-released prisoners, opposing high-stakes standardized testing , pushing for a ban of the term “illegal alien” in state public records, and partnering with Republican Governor Charlie Crist to restore voting rights for ex-felons. Wilson has a long history of working with her colleagues across the aisle to pass bipartisan legislation.
Wilson has been heralded by such diverse groups as the Florida Association of Women Lawyers, the American Cancer Society, Florida Cable Telecommunications Association, NAACP, and her sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., where she served as the South Atlantic Regional Director.
In 2010, Wilson emerged from a competitive nine person primary to win election overwhelmingly to represent the 17th District of Florida in the United States House of Representatives. The 17th District includes Northern Miami-Dade and Southeast Broward Counties.