Skip to main content
Select Source:

Carson, Julia

Julia Carson

1938-2007

Legislator

A liberal Indianapolis Democrat first elected to the U.S. Congress in 1996, Julia Carson was just the second African-American woman the state of Indiana sent to Congress in its history. In Washington, Carson drew on a lifetime of personal resilience and political experience, and was widely considered an astute campaigner whom her opponents tended to underestimate. A strong advocate of government social programs even during the budget-cutting 1990s, Carson nevertheless gained visibility prior to her election to Congress by implementing, while she was a county official, a program that required welfare recipients to work for their benefits.

Carson was born in Louisville, Kentucky, on July 8, 1938. The daughter of a teenage single mother, she grew up poor and worked at a variety of jobs while still a youngster; she waited tables, delivered newspapers, and picked crops on a farm. Carson attended Indiana University and later studied at the college of St. Mary in the Woods, but full-time employment beckoned the young woman with two children. She worked as a human resources manager at an electric company, and then opened her own clothing store. The clothing store failed, however, saddling Carson with a financial burden that would trouble her for many years.

Worked in U.S. Representative's Office

Carson found work as a secretary at a local chapter of the United Auto Workers in the early 1960s. In that job she met the unorthodox U.S. Congressman Andy Jacobs, who had just recently been elected and was looking for a caseworker and aide for his local office. He hired Carson and came to appreciate her ambition and organizational abilities. When Jacobs seemed to be headed for defeat in the Republican-dominated elections of 1972 (he lost but came back to win in 1974), he encouraged Carson to avoid going down with the ship by running for office herself. Carson ran for and won election to the Indiana House of Representatives. After two terms of office there, she was elected to the Indiana Senate in 1976. Carson stayed in the Senate for fourteen years, also working as a human resources executive at the Cummins Electric Company.

In 1990 Carson—who would never lose an election in over thirty years as a public official—entered and won an Indianapolis race for the office of Center Township Trustee, seemingly a step down from her state senate seat, but actually an administrative position of considerable power. In this post Carson was responsible for managing federal welfare payments in central Indianapolis. Although a lifelong believer in government involvement in the amelioration of poverty—one of her most painful childhood memories was of going to the welfare office for a ration of lard and cornmeal when her mother was ill and couldn't work—Carson implemented prescient new policies well before the cause of welfare reform swept the rest of the nation in the mid- to late-1990s. Inheriting a program plagued by $17 million of debt and charges of mismanagement, Carson put in place work requirements for welfare recipients and attacked the agency's management problems. By 1996 the debt was gone, the county was running a surplus, and local property taxes had been lowered. Even the county's Republican auditor praised Carson's performance, saying, as quoted by the Almanac of American Politics, that "Julia Carson wrestled that monster to the ground."

Entered Congressional Race

That same year, Jacobs announced his retirement from Congress, and Carson entered the race to succeed him. Jacobs threw his full support behind his protégé, but Carson faced stiff opposition in the primary from the well-financed Ann DeLaney, who countered Carson's candidacy with a barrage of advertising. Despite the gap in funding, Carson won the primary handily, and went on to tackle a general election that observers were skeptical she could win, given the generally conservative nature of the Indianapolis electorate and the fact that Carson's district was only 30 percent African American.

During the campaign Carson argued that spending money on education, specifically in the area of computers, would be more effective than expensive anticrime measures, but her opponents attacked her as being soft on crime. Carson's opponent, stockbroker Virginia Blankenbaker, led early in the race, but her poll numbers declined when, shortly before the election, several Indianapolis police officers faced charges of assaulting a black pedestrian. In November Carson won the election by a margin of 53 to 45 percent. Unfortunately, medical problems interrupted her ascension to office; she underwent bypass surgery in Indianapolis on January 4, 1997, and missed the Congressional swearing-in ceremony while she recovered. She took the oath of office while still in the hospital, and did not make it to Washington until March.

In Congress Carson continued to take liberal stands, favoring restrictions to the U.S.-Canada-Mexico North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which some contended cost low-wage, unskilled Americans their jobs. Government social activism, Carson was quoted as saying in Ebony, "can work if we are committed to weeding out excessiveness, abuse and apathy."

At a Glance …

Born Julia May Porter on July 8, 1938, in Louisville, KY; died on December 15, 2007, in Indianapolis, IN; daughter of a teenage single mother; married, 1955 (divorced); children: Sam (son), Tanya (daughter). Politics: Democratic Party. Religion: Baptist. Education: Attended Indiana University; also attended College of St. Mary in the Woods.

Career: Worked variously as a waitress, human resources manager, and a clothing store owner; United Auto Workers local office, secretary, 1962-63; Office of U.S. Representative Andy Jacobs, caseworker and aide, 1965-72; Indiana House of Representatives, member, 1972-76; Cummins Electric Company, director of human resources, 1973-96; Indiana Senate, member, 1976-90; Center Township Trustee and administrator of Indianapolis-area welfare payments, 1991-96; U.S. Congress, Indiana 7th Congressional District (formerly 10th), member (Democrat), 1996-2007.

Memberships: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); Urban League; National Council of Negro Women.

Awards: Indianapolis Star Woman of the Year, 1974 and 1991; Indiana Public Schools Hall of Fame, 2006.

Targeted by Republicans in Reelection Bid

In 1998 Carson became a target of the national Republican Party, which poured millions of dollars into a group of Congressional races in the heartland states of Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky. Whereas Blankenbaker, Carson's first opponent, had been politically moderate, Carson's 1998 foe, Gary Hofmeister, was an ultra-conservative protégé of Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed. Hofmeister attacked Carson for supporting President Bill Clinton's veto of a bill that would have outlawed most so-called partial-birth abortions, forcing Carson to respond with an ad stating her opposition to late-term abortions except in cases where the mother's life was in danger. The campaign entered a critical phase when Hofmeister, hoping to revive the charge that Carson was too lenient on criminals, ran a notorious television advertisement in which a picture of Carson metamorphosed into images of hypodermic needles and prison cells. The ad, which recalled the Willie Horton episode of the 1988 national presidential campaign, was too strong for low-key Indiana; Carson won reelection, as did most of the incumbent Democrats targeted in 1998.

In 1999 Carson, a member of the House Banking Committee, continued to work on issues of importance to her low-income constituents. In February of that year she announced a new program, supported by the federally chartered Fannie Mae home mortgage agency, that would allow eligible Indiana residents to purchase a home with a down payment of only one percent of the home's value. And in June of that year Carson's efforts to recognize a civil rights pioneer were rewarded when Congress awarded Rosa Parks the prestigious Gold Medal, an honor for which the Indiana Congresswoman had sponsored her.

Over the years that followed, Carson continued to champion the causes of the underprivileged, including uninsured children, homeless veterans, and victims of domestic violence, and to oppose the Republican agenda. In 2002 she was one of the few members of Congress who opposed authorizing military action in Iraq. She also sponsored legislation to protect and expand the railway service Amtrak.

Struck Down by Illness in Middle of Term

Carson, however, also suffered a number of physical maladies, including asthma, diabetes, and hypertension, in addition to the coronary problems that required surgery at the beginning of her first term. Due to her illnesses, Carson was frequently absent from Congress. Although opponents made her health an issue in her 2006 reelection campaign, Carson's constituents did not care; they voted by a substantial margin to send her back to Washington.

In September of 2007 Carson returned to Indiana because of an infection in her leg, at the site where veins had been harvested for her bypass surgery a decade before. She had surgery, which was expected to be fairly routine, but in late November Carson made a shocking announcement: She'd been diagnosed with lung cancer, which had been in remission. The disease had returned, and now her prognosis was terminal. Less than a month after the announcement, Carson was dead.

Carson lay in state at the Indiana State House rotunda, the first woman and the first minority to be so honored. At her request, her grandson, André Carson, was allowed to run for her seat in a special election after she passed away. André was a political novice, having just won his first elected office—as an Indianapolis city councilman—weeks before his grandmother's death. But the party, and Carson's constituents, honored her wishes, sending him to Congress to serve out the remainder of her term.

Carson was remembered for her political savvy, her personable manner, and the tremendous empathy she brought to public office. At her funeral talk show host Tavis Smiley, as shown on YouTube, summed up her career this way: "Julia Carson understood that it's not about the love of power … it's about the power of love."

Sources

Books

Barone, Michael, and Grant Ujifusa, The Almanac of American Politics: 1998, National Journal, 1997.

Periodicals

Atlanta Constitution, November 5, 1998, p. K1.

Business Wire, February 12, 1999, p. 1.

Congressional Quarterly Weekly, January 4, 1997, p. 59.

Ebony, January 1997, p. 64.

Indianapolis Recorder, December 27, 2007.

USA Today, November 25, 2007; December 23, 2007.

Washington Post, October 31, 1998, p. A13; December 16, 2007, p. C8.

Online

"Congressional Gold Medal Recipient Rosa Parks," Official Site of the Congressional Gold Medal, http://www.congressionalgoldmedal.com/RosaParks.htm (accessed July 21, 2008).

"Indiana Pioneer Congresswoman: I Have Terminal Cancer," CNN, November 25, 2007, http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/11/25/carson.cancer/index.html (accessed July 21, 2008).

"Julia Carson Funeral: Tavis Smiley," YouTube, December 29, 2007, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v_YygDLVwIFTI (accessed July 21, 2008).

—James M. Manheim and Derek Jacques

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Carson, Julia." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Carson, Julia." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 25, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/carson-julia

"Carson, Julia." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved June 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/carson-julia

Carson, Julia 1938–

Julia Carson 1938

Congresswoman

At a Glance

Entered Congressional Race

Faced Attack Ad

Sources

A liberal Indianapolis Democrat first elected to Congress in 1996, Julia Carson won re-election in 1998 to defeat an aggressive right-wing campaign. The grand-mother of two drew on a lifetime of personal resilience and political experience, and was widely considered an astute campaigner whom her opponents tended to underestimate. A strong advocate of government social programs even during the budget-cutting 1990s, Carson nevertheless gained visibility prior to her election to Congress by implementing, while she was a county official, a program that required welfare recipients to work for their benefits.

Carson was born in Louisville, Kentucky, on July 8, 1938. The daughter of a teenage single mother, she grew up poor and worked at a variety of jobs while still a youngster; she waited tables, delivered newspapers, and picked crops on a farm. One of Carsons early memories was of going to a welfare office to pick up a ration of corn meal and lard. Carson attended Indiana University from 1970 to 1972, and later studied at the college of St. Mary in the Woods, but full-time employment beckoned the young woman with two children. She worked as a human resources manager at an electric company, and then opened her own clothing store.

The clothing store failed, saddling Carson with a financial burden that would trouble her for many years. Working as a secretary at a United Auto Workers local chapter in 1965, Carson met the unorthodox U.S. Congressman Andy Jacobs, who had just recently been elected and was looking for a caseworker and aide for his local office. He hired Carson, and came to appreciate her ambition and organizational abilities. When Jacobs seemed to be headed for defeat in the Republican-dominated elections of 1972 (he lost but came back to win in 1974), he encouraged Carson to avoid going down with the ship by running for office herself. Carson ran and won election to the Indiana House of Representatives, and she was elected to the Indiana Senate in 1976. Carson stayed in the Senate for fourteen years, also working as a human resources executive at the Cummins Electric Company.

In 1990 Carson, who at this writing has never lost an election, entered and won an Indianapolis race for the office of Center Township Trustee, seemingly a step down from her state senate seat, but actually an administrative

At a Glance

Born July 8, 1938, in Louisville, Kentucky; daughter of a teenage single mother; divorced; two children. Education: Attended Indiana University, 1970-72; also attended College of St. Mary in the Woods, Religion: Baptist.

Career: United States Congressional Representative, Indiana Tenth Congressional District; member of the Democratic Party. United Auto Workers focal office, secretary, 1962-63; Office of U.S. Representative Andy Jacobs, caseworker and aide, 1965-72; Indiana House of Representatives, member, 1972-76; Cummins Electric Co., director of human resources, 1973-96; Indiana Senate, member, 1976-90; Center Township Trustee and administrator of Indianapolis-area welfare payments, 1991-96; elected to U.S. Congress, 1996; re-elected in the face of national Republican party targeting, 1998-.

Addresses: Office 1541 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515.

position of considerable power: in this post, Carson was responsible for managing federal welfare payments in central Indianapolis. Although a lifelong believer in government involvement in the amelioration of poverty, Carson soon stepped well out in front of the wave of welfare reforms implemented almost every-where in the 1990s. Inheriting a program plagued by $17 million of debt and charges of mismanagement, Carson put in place work requirements for welfare recipients and attacked the agencys management problems.

Entered Congressional Race

By 1996, the debt was gone and local property taxes had been lowered. Even the countys Republican auditor praised Carsons performance, saying (according to the Almanac of American Politics ) that Julia Carson wrestled that monster to the ground. When Jacobs announced his retirement from Congress that year, Carson entered the race to succeed him. Jacobs threw his support behind the aide who had worked with him a quarter century before, but Carson faced opposition in the primary from the well-financed Ann DeLaney, who countered Carsons candidacy with a barrage of advertising. Carson won the primary handily, and went on to tackle a general election which observers doubted she could win, given the generally conservative nature of the Indianapolis electorate and the fact that Carsons district was only 30 percent African American.

During the campaign, Carson argued that spending money on education, specifically in the area of computers, would be more effective than expensive anti-crime measures, but her opponents attacked her as being soft on crime. Carsons opponent, stockbroker Virginia Blankenbaker, led early in the race, but her ratings declined when, shortly before the election, several Indianapolis police officers faced charges of assaulting a black pedestrian. In November, Carson won the election by a margin of 53 to 45 percent. Unfortunately medical problems interrupted her ascension to office; she under-went heart surgery in Indianapolis on January 4, 1997, and missed the Congressional swearing-in ceremony while she recovered. She did not make it to Washington until March 5.

In Congress, Carson continued to take liberal stands, favoring restrictions to the U.S.CanadaMexico North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which some contended cost low-wage, unskilled Americans their jobs. Government social activism, Carson was quoted as saying in Ebony, can work if we are committed to weeding out excessiveness, abuse and apathy. In 1998, Carson became a target of the national Republican party, which poured millions of dollars into a group of Congressional races in the heartland states of Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky. Whereas Blankenbaker, Carsons first opponent, had been moderate politically, Carsons 1998 foe, Gary Hofmeister, held strongly conservative views. Hofmeister was a protege of Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed.

Faced Attack Ad

Hofmeister attacked Carson for voting to support President Bill Clintons veto of a bill that would have outlawed most so-called partial-birth abortions, forcing Carson to respond with an ad stating her opposition to late-term abortions except in cases where the mothers life was in danger. The campaign entered a critical phase when Hofmeister, hoping to revive the charge that Carson was too lenient on criminals, ran a notorious television advertisement in which a picture of Carson metamorphosed into images of hypodermic needles and prison cells. The ad, which recalled the Willie Horton episode of the 1988 national presidential campaign, was too strong for low-key Indiana; Carson, as did most of the incumbent Democrats targeted in 1998, won re-election.

In 1999 Carson, a member of the House Banking Committee, continued to work on issues of importance to her low-income constituents. In February of that year, she announced a new program, supported by the federally-chartered Fannie Mae (FNM) home mortgage agency, that would allow eligible Indiana residents to purchase a home with a down payment of only one percent of the homes value. Carson is a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Urban League, and the National Council of Negro Women.

Sources

Books

Barone, Michael, and Grant Ujifusa, The Almanac of American Politics: 1998, National Journal, 1997.

Periodicals

Atlanta Constitution, November 5, 1998, p. K1.

Business Wire, February 12, 1999, p. 1.

Congressional Quarterly Weekly, January 4, 1997, p. 59.

Ebony, January 1997, p. 64.

Washington Post, October 31, 1998, p. A13.

James M. Manheim

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Carson, Julia 1938–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Carson, Julia 1938–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 25, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/carson-julia-1938

"Carson, Julia 1938–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved June 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/carson-julia-1938