Hoosier Hero: Julia Carson

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If you live in Indianapolis proper, then chances are you live in the 7th district represented by Andre Carson. Andre Carson is an accomplished politician in his own right and you have probably heard of him or at least seen his signs around town. What you may not know is that his tenure as the congressmen of the 7th district directly followed the tenure of his grandmother, Julia May Carson.

Julia Carson was born Julia Porter in Louisville, Kentucky in 1938. She was the child of a single mom, Velma Porter. When Julia was still young, her mother moved the family to Indianapolis, Indiana to find work as a domestic. The family was poor, so Julia had to work part-time delivering newspapers, harvesting crops, waiting tables, and other odd jobs.

Julia Carson is a product of Indianapolis Public Schools, specifically the renowned Crispus Attucks High School. During these formative years of her life, Indiana still had many segregated businesses. This was highlighted by the fact that the Crispus Attucks basketball team, led by her schoolmate and future Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson, couldn’t even play some white schools around town.

After she graduated, she married and had two children, Sam and Tonya. Her marriage ended in divorce. Shortly thereafter she studied at Martin University, Indiana’s only predominantly black higher education institution, and then Indiana University. She began working as the secretary for the United Auto Workers. That is where she met Representative Andy Jacobs. It was Jacobs that hired her as a district aide. Later, he convinced Carson to run for office herself. This is where Julia Carson’s political career began.

First, she was elected to the Indiana House of Representatives and served from 1973 to 1977. In the state house she served as the assistant minority caucus chair.

She then was elected to the Indiana Senate and served from 1977 to 1991. She served in the upper chamber on the finance committee and eventually rose to the level of the minority whip.

Finally, she ran for the US congress position previously occupied by Andy Jacobs, the man who first convinced her to run.  She won a competitive election against Republican Virginia Blankenbaker.

While she served in the US Congress, she gained a reputation for being unpredictable with her votes. She famously opposed the Iraq war resolution. She later confided in her friend Andy Jacobs that her decision to oppose the resolution would cost her re-election. She was wrong. She won two more terms in 2004 and 2006.

Carson’s health began to decline in 2007. She was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and eventually passed on December 15, 2007.

Because she died while still in office, a special election was needed to pick her replacement. Her grandson, Andre Carson, won her former seat.

During Women’s History Month, we salute Julia May Carson, a product of Indianapolis Public Schools, who rose from a modest childhood and overcame racism in order to create a long-lasting legacy that still persists today through her grandson.

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Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.