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Julia Carson, 1938 - 2007

Congresswoman broke barriers

December 16, 2007|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Rep. Julia Carson, the first black person and first woman to represent Indianapolis in Congress, died Saturday after a battle with lung cancer, spokeswoman Vanessa Summers said. She was 69.

Carson, whose district includes most of Indianapolis, died at her home there. She announced three weeks ago that she had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and said days later that she would not seek a seventh term in office.

The Democrat, who had suffered health problems for years, had not been in Washington since September, when she was hospitalized with a leg infection.

Carson was first elected to Congress in 1996. She championed children's issues, women's rights and efforts to reduce homelessness, and was a staunch opponent of the war in Iraq.

Carson's highest-profile action during her 11 years in Congress came in 1999, when she pushed for legislation that granted the Congressional Gold Medal to Rosa Parks, the black woman who refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger in Montgomery, Ala., on Dec. 5, 1955, and was arrested for her defiance.

"Julia Carson overcame much and accomplished much, and devoted her life to helping other people do the same," Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) said in a statement. "She was elected to important public offices but never forgot who she was, where she came from or who she was there to serve."

Born Julia May Porter on July 8, 1938, in Louisville, Ky., she was raised in Indianapolis by her single mother, who worked as a housekeeper. After graduating from the segregated Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis, Carson married and had two children before she and her husband divorced. She wound up raising her children and two grandchildren as a single working woman.

She attended classes at various colleges in Indiana, worked as a secretary for the United Auto Workers and later owned a dress shop in Indianapolis.

Carson began her political career in the 1960s when then-Rep. Andy Jacobs Jr., another Democrat, hired her to work in his office. Jacobs encouraged Carson to run for the Indiana Legislature in 1972 -- the first of her more than two dozen victories in local, legislative and congressional elections without a loss. She ran for Congress in 1996 after Jacobs retired.

A hard-charging campaigner, Carson faced stiff challenges from Republicans in every election cycle but was victorious each time.

Carson had suffered in recent years from high blood pressure, asthma and diabetes. She missed dozens of House votes in 2004 because of illness and spent the weekend before the 2004 election in the hospital for what she said was a flu-shot reaction -- but still won reelection by 10 percentage points.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels will call a special election to choose a replacement for the last year of Carson's term. She is the fifth member of the House of Representatives to die this year, following Jo Ann Davis (R-Va.), Paul Gillmor (R-Ohio), Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-Carson) and Charles Norwood Jr. (R-Ga.).

Services for Carson are pending.

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