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Frank Malcolm Cunningham, Sr.


Malcom Cunningham

Frank Malcolm Cunningham, Sr. (1927-1978) was born in Plant City, Florida, one of eight children in a farming family. He attended Florida A&M University, where he met and married Nealia Brookins (1925-2001) of West Palm Beach. Because no Florida law school would admit blacks at the time, Cunningham received his legal education at Howard University. He opened the first black law practice in West Palm Beach in 1953 on Rosemary Avenue, where his brother, T. J. Cunningham, joined him in 1960.

Malcolm Cunningham became the first black since Reconstruction to be voted into public office in Florida when he was elected to the Riviera Beach Town Council in 1962. He left in 1968, as chairman, and returned to his law practice, which is one of Florida’s oldest black law firms.

Cunningham was the first black to serve as city attorney for Riviera Beach. He made two unsuccessful runs for the Florida Legislature. Cunningham worked with attorney William F. Holland to force school desegregation, helped to form a Progressive Citizens group in Belle Glade, and to integrate the Florida Turnpike’s facilities and West Palm Beach's golf courses. Malcolm and T. J. Cunningham co-founded First Prudential Bank in 1973, the first minority-owned commercial bank in Florida, which became Southcoast Bank Corp.

Cunningham’s many awards and honors include the naming of the F. Malcolm Cunningham, Sr. Bar Association, representing primarily black lawyers, and Cunningham Park in Riviera Beach. The Palm Beach Post wrote, “Whatever is ‘open’ about Palm Beach County politics, schools, housing and jobs is due in large part to F. Malcolm Cunningham, Sr.’s leadership.”

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