steven-and-earl-carroll_web.jpgLong before Jennifer Carroll made headlines as only the second African American woman to run for lieutenant governor, her in-laws made political history of their own in Miami-Dade County.

Carroll’s husband of 27 years, Nolan Carroll, is a Liberty City native and nephew of Miami Dade’s first black county commissioner. Earl Jackson Carroll served on the county commission from 1968 to 1972. Now 78, and in ill health, he still lives in Miami.

He ventured into politics in the civil rights era and has a storied history. He earned a four-year degree in political science from Florida A&M University in two and a half years. He also ran the Earl Carroll Insurance Agency in Liberty City.

His foray into politics began in the 1960s, when he was president of the Young Democrats. He ran for Legislature twice, forcing the white incumbent into a run-off the second time.

In 1968, he became the first black to win a countywide election, becoming a Miami Dade commissioner. According to his son Steven, 52, of Liberty City, every year during Black History Month, homage is paid to his father.

But Earl Carroll wasn’t the only family member making history. His elder brother, Charles Whitfield Carroll, father of Jennifer Carroll’s husband, Nolan, became one of the first black Miami police officers, retiring as a plainclothes detective.  He died in 1973.

“Our family is blessed,” said Judy Nelson, 66, Earl and Charles’ sister, who lives in unincorporated Miami-Dade County.

While Earl was making political waves locally, Nelson was a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa,. She retired in 2007 as a copy writer with the Miami-Dade County Transit Department.

Another sister, Jean Carroll Morley, who lives in Miami, retired after teaching in Miami-Dade schools for 30 years.

“Service was important in our family,” said Nelson, who said the family lived for a time in a Liberty City housing project. “We all wanted to serve in some capacity.”

She attributes that service orientation to her mother, Una, who as a widow primarily raised the four siblings alone. She instilled in them good values and a desire to help others, said Nelson.

Jennifer Carroll, Nelson says, has that same spirit and she was not surprised that her nephew, Nolan, a 1975 graduate of Miami Central High School, married someone who, she said was also called to serve. “We’re just blessed to have Jennifer as a part of our family,” Nelson said. 

Nolan and Jennifer met in Hawaii while she was in the U.S. Navy and he was in the U.S. Air Force. They have three children. Their eldest child, Nolan II, is in his first season with the Miami Dolphins.  Nelson says the entire Carroll family came together in Miami in July for a family reunion, including Jennifer Carroll, Nolan and their children.

The family is now rallying to help Jennifer win in November as part of the Republican gubernatorial ticket headed by Rick Scott. Steven, a business consultant and a Community Outreach Specialist for the Scott-Carver Hope VI Redevelopment Project in Liberty City, said he is a registered Democrat but plans to vote for Jennifer’s ticket. Other Democrats who get to know her will do the same, he said. He has known her a long time and attended the wedding when his cousin Nolan married her.

“Jennifer is a solid individual,” he said. “She’s sincere. And it’s not just because she’s my cousin-in-law. I don’t think it’s all about her being a Republican or Democrat; it’s a ‘people thing’ with her. I think it’s about what you stand for. It’s about doing right by the people.”

Steven said he has worked and lived in Liberty City for years and the area has not developed. Liberty City, he said, could benefit from having Jennifer Carroll as lieutenant governor.

“Liberty City is lacking in a lot of things and it has been for the past 30-40 years,” Steven said. “And I don’t think that has anything to do with a person’s political affiliation. I think it has to do with a person’s agenda, priorities and capabilities. Liberty City has been stagnant. It hasn’t moved forward.”

He believes in Jennifer Carroll’s record of getting things done and that she might just make the difference. She has said she plans to campaign in Liberty City and across Florida.

Nelson, too, said Jennifer Carroll has her vote. She has been both a Democrat and a Republican and this time around she’s pulling for the Scott-Carroll Republican ticket which, she said, has more to offer than the Democratic ticket of Alex Sink and Rod Smith.

But there’s another reason she’s pulling for Jennifer Carroll:  “Of course, she’s family.” 

LIBERTY CITY CONNECTION: Members of the Carroll family in Liberty City include, from left, Steven Carroll and his father Earl Carroll.