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Indianapolis Women's History Tour
Item 4 of 11

United States Representative Julia Carson (July 8, 1938 – December 15, 2007) lived in this house for more than thirty years, from before she rose to political prominence until her death at age sixty-nine. A Democrat known for her progressive ideals, extended political service, and down-to-earth demeanor, Carson was the first women and the first African American to represent Indianapolis.


  • Rep. Julia Carson
  • Rep. Julia Carson
  • Carson lived at this home and became the first woman and first African-American to represent Indiana’s 7th District. She served from 1997 until her death in 2007.

United States Representative Julia Carson (July 8, 1938 – December 15, 2007) lived in this house for more than thirty years, from before she rose to political prominence until her death at age sixty-nine.  A Democrat known for her progressive ideals, extended political service, and down-to-earth demeanor, Carson was the first women and the first African American to represent Indianapolis. 

Carson was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but her young, single mother moved the family to Indianapolis to work as a housekeeper while Carson was still an infant.  Carson later remembered going to the Wayne Township trustee office and requesting food aid as a child: “They looked at me something awful.  I had tears in my eyes.  I said, ‘I need some food for my mom.  She’s very ill and can’t work.’  They gave me lard and cornmeal and told me not to bring ‘my ass’ there anymore.”[1]  As an adult, Carson’s recollection of her early experiences with poverty informed her compassionate approach to government. 

After graduating from the segregated Crispus Attucks High School in 1955, Carson entered into a brief marriage that produced two children, Sam and Tonya.  She then attended Martin University and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis before working as a secretary for United Auto Workers Local 550.

In 1965, the newly-elected congressman Andrew Jacobs invited Carson to work in his office.  Carson first asked her mother if Jacobs was indeed a congressman and, reassured that his offer was legitimate, she agreed to join his staff.[2]  Seven years later, Jacobs encouraged her to run for the Indiana House of Representatives, telling her “Come on, kid.  This is the time to step up.”[3]  Carson did step up, becoming a member of the Indiana General Assembly for almost twenty years before spending six years as a Center Township trustee.  As a trustee, Carson earned a reputation for empathy and frugality, donating an apartment building near her home for use by homeless veterans and taking the public assistance program from a $20 million debt to a $6 million surplus.[4] 

Carson ran for and won a congressional seat in the U.S. House of Representatives following Jacobs’ retirement in 1996.  As a congresswoman, she was known for her efforts regarding homelessness, financial literacy, LGBT advocacy, and the rights of women and children.  Carson achieved a career highlight in 1999, when she successfully sponsored a bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal to civil rights activist Rosa Parks.  Carson also voted against the Iraq War in 2002, comparing the conflict to the failed Vietnam War and questioning the cost, purpose, and morality of American aggression.[5]  Four years later, she declined to support a bill that would make illegal immigrants felons and fund construction of a fence along the Mexican border.[6]  In 2001, the freshman Representative from Pennsylvania, Malissa Hart, reproved Carson for riding an elevator reserved for members of the House.  Carson responded, saying “So what’s your point?”[7]

In 1997, Carson took her oath of office from her hospital bed after a double-bypass surgery and later faced criticism when her ill health caused her to miss votes.[8]  Carson died in 2007, after doctors discovered a reoccurrence of lung cancer while examining an infection in her leg.  She was succeeded in office by her grandson, André Carson, the first Muslim congressman to serve on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.[9]  Carson is buried in the Indianapolis Crown Hill Cemetery.


[1]  Rob Schneider, “She Never Forgot: Compassion for those in need grew out of her childhood experiences,” Indianapolis Star, December 16, 2007.

[2]  Will Higgins, “‘She Touched So Many’: Congresswoman remembered for her courage and humanity,” Indianapolis Star, December 23, 2007.

[3]  Rob Schneider, “She Never Forgot: Compassion for those in need grew out of her childhood experiences,” Indianapolis Star, December 16, 2007.

[4]  “Long Odds Never Stopped Julia Carson,” Indianapolis Star, November 1, 2002.

[5]  Maureen Groppe, “Carson to Oppose Iraq Resolution,” Gannett News Service, October 10, 2002.  

[6]  Matthew Tully, “Immigration Debate Calls For Prudence, Not Passion,” Indianapolis Star, April 12, 2006.

[7]  Mark Leibovich, “Washington Traffic Jam? Senators-Only Elevator,” New York Times, August 2, 2002; “Long Odds Never Stopped Julia Carson,” Indianapolis Star, November 1, 2002.

[8]  Maureen Groppe, “Carson Hospitalized for Infection in Leg,” Gannett News Service, October 1, 2007.

[9]  Jasmine Garsd, “Rep. André Carson To Become First Muslim On House Committee on Intelligence,” NPR All Things Considered, January 13, 2015.  

Boomhower, Ray E. “Julia Carson.” In Indiana’s 200: The People Who Shaped the Hoosier State, edited by Gugin, Linda C., and James E. St Clair. Indiana Historical Society, 2016.

The Committee on House Administration of the U.S. House of Representatives. “Julia Carson.” In Black Americans in Congress,1870-2007, 650-653. Government Printing Office, 2008. 

Groppe, Maureen. “Carson Hospitalized for Infection in Leg.” Gannett News Service, October 1, 2007.

Groppe, Maureen. “Carson to Oppose Iraq Resolution.” Gannett News Service, October 10, 2002.

Higgins, Will. “‘She Touched So Many’: Congresswoman remembered for her courage and humanity.” Indianapolis Star, December 23, 2007. 

“Julia Carson Dedicated Life to Indiana.” Journal & Courier, December 22, 2007.

Leibovich, Mark. “Washington Traffic Jam? Senators-Only Elevator.” New York Times, August 2, 2002.

“Long Odds Never Stopped Julia Carson.” Indianapolis Star, November 1, 2002.

“Rep. Julia Carson; Indiana Democrat Opposed Iraq War.” Washington Post, December 16, 2007.

Schneider, Rob. “She Never Forgot: Compassion for those in need grew out of her childhood experiences.” Indianapolis Star, December 16, 2007.

Tully, Matthew. “Immigration Debate Calls For Prudence, Not Passion.” Indianapolis Star, April 12, 2006.