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Moment of Indiana History

Ms. Carson Goes to Washington

The first African-American to represent Indianapolis in Washington was also the Circle City’s first Congresswoman.

Not only the first African-American to represent Indianapolis in Congress, Julia May Carson was also the Circle City’s first Congresswoman in Washington.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Carson moved to Indianapolis as a child so that her mother could find work. Graduating from Crispus Attucks High School in 1955, Carson attended both Martin University in Indianapolis and Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne.

In 1965, while working as a secretary at a local United Auto Workers chapter, she met newly elected U.S. Congressman Andy Jacobs, who hired her as a legislative assistant. At Jacobs’ encouragement, Carson ran for the Indiana House of Representatives in 1972. Winning the seat, Carson served for four years–becoming assistant minority caucus chair. Subsequently, Carson was elected to the Indiana State Senate, a job she held for fourteen years.

While employed in the state legislature, Carson was human resources director at an electric company. She became Trustee of Indianapolis’s Center Township, a program that handled federal welfare distribution and was riddled with corruption and mismanagement. Carson addressed the agency’s administrative issues and turned its multi-million dollar debt into a $6 million surplus.

Elected to the US House of Representatives in 1996, Indiana’s second African American Congresswoman served until her death in 2007. In the House, Carson was committed to financial education, eradicating homelessness, helping homeowners, and protecting the rights of veterans.

She served on the House Committees on Financial Services, Veterans’ Affairs, and Transportation and Infrastructure. She was a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the Congressional Black Caucus.

Carson authored the bill giving a Congressional Gold Medal to Rosa Parks. She also fought to enhance the detection of children qualified for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. The Indianapolis Star named her Woman of the Year in 1974, and again in 1991.

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