"Editors note: U.S. Rep. Julia Carson passed away on Saturday, Dec. 15. We asked a number of writers who knew Julia to express their thoughts and feelings.
This Friday, a procession is planned to begin at Rep. Carson’s home and arrive at the Statehouse at 10 a.m. The congresswoman’s body will lie in state until 10 p.m. in the Statehouse Rotunda. There will be a memorial service there at 6 p.m. The funeral will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday at Eastern Star Church, 5750 E. 30th St.
Per the Constitution, the parties will caucus to select candidates and Gov. Daniels will call for a special election to fill the vacancy in the U.S. House of Representatives in about 60 days.
By Andy Jacobs Jr.
Former U.S. congressman, Indiana 10th District
“Look where he came from and look where he went; and wasn’t he a kind of tough struggler all his life right up to the finish?” The words are those of Sandburg in praise of Lincoln. The same praise could and should be said of our sister Julia Carson, who has passed beyond the sound of our voices into the sunset of her temporal life and into a dawn of history.
Where did she come from? Same place as Lincoln: Kentucky. And as was the case with Lincoln, she was born both to physical poverty and spiritual wealth, and moved to Indiana.
Another similarity: Julia also had an “angel mother,” Velma Porter, who put a lot of physical, mental and spiritual nutrients into the little flowerpot of her only child.
I knew Ms. Porter years before I met Julia. Velma Porter was a domestic worker in the home of a girl I dated in high school. Ms. Porter was a loving disciplinarian, which is to say that I was required to remove my shoes before entering the house she professionally kept clean. A little teenage cussing? Forget it in the presence of this Lord-loving lady.
Fast forward to a month after my first and improbable election to Congress. I was told by mutual friends that at the Chrysler UAW office, I could find a remarkable woman to join me as a coworker in the Washington congressional office. Remarkable? Understatement. Thus began my 47-year friendship and, eventually, virtual sibling-ship with the already honorable Julia M. Carson, one of the most intelligent, ethical, industrious and compassionate people I have ever known.
Check out her first congressional brainstorm. It started a national trend. Why make constituents in need of congressional assistance with bureaucratic problems travel all the way to D.C. to get it? Why not take that part of the congressional office to them? So we adopted her suggestion and did our so-called case work in Indianapolis with Julia at the helm. It set an example, which has been followed by other congressional offices all over the country ever since. OK, there was one other factor. She had two little kids she preferred to rear here in Indianapolis, “doing well by her kids by doing good for her country.”
Later, my refusal to bring home a particularly pernicious piece of political pork earned me a severe gerrymander, which, together with the Nixon landslide, ejected me from Congress. Nothing is all bad; the beneficiary of the gerrymander was my much admired friend, Bill Hudnut. That was the year I had to talk Julia into running for the state House of Representatives. She thought it would be disloyal to our friendship because it would take her away from my campaign, which was a campaign of futility that year.
She was elected to the state House, where she served with distinction and, in time, she became a state senator, again gaining friends and admirers on both sides of the aisle.
Still later, she became the Center Township trustee and produced real “welfare reform,” not with ignorant histrionic speeches and braggadocio, but with hard, quiet and meticulous work. It was reform that broke no poor child’s heart, nor sent such a “child to bed hungry.” (News man Bill Wildhack.) She not only ferreted-out welfare cheats, she sued them and got the money back for the taxpayers. Her reform wiped out a longstanding multimillion-dollar debt, moving the then-Marion County Republican auditor to say, “She wrestled the monster to the ground.”
Julia was unique in that she was the only human being ever to be named Person of the Year by The Indianapolis Star on two different occasions.
It was common parlance to say, “Congresswoman Carson’s people,” a reference to poor African-American constituents. Rubbish. The 7th District is about 70 percent non-African-American and “her people” were all the people of the 7th District, regardless of physical or economic description. Millionaires can be treated unjustly by the federal government just as middle and low income citizens can. And wherever there was injustice, this Lincoln-like lady was there to redress it. Her political philosophy was a plank from The Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are they who thirst for justice.”
There’s another one, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” She cast our vote against the conspicuously unconstitutional resolution that gave the Cheney gang a fig leaf to order our innocent military to the fraudulent and internationally illegal blood-soaked blunder in Iraq. Julia called me just before she cast that vote and said that, in view of the dishonesty, panic and jingoism of the moment, she expected to lose the next election. “Courage,” my mother said, “is fear that has said its prayers.”
Our Julia, who art in Heaven …
By Mari Evans
There are things that occur — moments in a lifetime — signal, indelible — for which I have no words. Am not writerly. Remembering Julia? No words. No distances. But images? I have those.
Sister/Friend in early morning sunlight stepping off on her bicycle to make the ride from her home on Park Avenue, to my gate on Broadway, where I leave my seat on the porch to stand on my side of the gate and share Black/Lady social and political conversation until time for her to bicycle back and start chaos and hustle of her busy life. No distances. Julia: Sister/Friend sharing ad hoc July birthday gatherings with a dozen other miscellaneous “July People.” And planning, just recently, to revive the celebratory practice in July 2008.
She seriously accepted that political mission, however sacrificial, was to serve; but she was never deluded about the fact that her strong convictions would be, or often were, less than appreciated or endorsed by her colleagues.
Julia: My Sister/Friend — Sister/Friend to those without voice — family to the world — no distances. You would say of yourself, facetiously, of course, “When I die / I’m sure / I will have a / Big funeral …. / Curiosity seekers / Coming to see if I / Am really dead / Or just trying /To make trouble …” We, however, would say that your image is secure. You remain:
“…..a Black woman
tall as a cypress
beyond all definition still
indestructible … we
look on you
By David Hoppe
NUVO A&E editor
From time to time, certain words come into fashion because they capture something about their time and place. People grab on to these words and use them until they become clichés, their meaning exhausted through overuse and laziness.
“Authentic” is one of these words. People use it today to describe people, places and things that have a reality, distinction and heft that transcend the given moment. If the word is enjoying a certain vogue these days, that’s probably because we sense this combination of qualities is becoming harder to come by. In an increasingly virtual world, the truly authentic can be so disconcerting we try to neutralize it with nostalgia.
Julia Carson was authentic. She was a black woman of a certain age and the only child of a single mother; ambitious, smart, unwilling and, indeed, unable to conform to any of the predetermined role models on offer to a person like her because none of them would have fit and all of them would have held her back.
Julia Carson’s authenticity had a way of freaking people out — especially the kind of white people who make the parsing of politics their stock and trade. They didn’t like the way she dressed or how she wore her wigs. They chose to understand flashes of her public behavior — her televised fury over a malfunctioning voting machine, say, or walking off the stage at a candidates’ debate — as professional calculation so that they could account for her. Otherwise, as far as they were concerned, she was like a crazy old aunt, the one who trips over the furniture and takes up too much space at family gatherings. They fretted over what other people might think of her. She was, after all, our representative in Washington, D.C.
But this is the kind of thinking that looks at a city like Indianapolis and concludes that the way to respectability depends on getting brand-name restaurants to open downtown. It’s the kind of thinking that craves the same meal in Indy as in Cleveland, Omaha or Seattle because, that way, no real thinking needs to be done at all.
I met Julia Carson for the first time in the fall of 2004. She was dressed in a bright red workout suit and drove herself to our meeting in a black 1993 Buick Roadmaster. By that time she had successfully weathered her vote to deny President Bush authorization to make war against Iraq — a position that prompted some to call her a traitor, but ultimately shamed many of her colleagues. I thought we might talk for 30 minutes; our conversation lasted almost two hours. At one point, she said this:
“I feel comfortable in community. Maybe it’s because I’m the only child. But I like to go out and find these relationships. I guess that enhances my comfort level. That people share my ideas and my goals and believe that we are collectively responsible for our young people. That it’s not just the mother and father. They’re not there all the time. It’s not just the schools. They’re not in school all the time … I don’t think we’ve got it quite right. And I keep thinking about that. How do we get it right? There’s got to be a way.”
Julia’s way was born of this place, and fiercely independent. As long as she represented Indianapolis, we were in no danger of being confused with any other city in America. I wonder if we will see her like again.
Yes, the word, this time, is earned: Julia Carson was authentic.
The best part of us
By Fran Quigley
Former NUVO news editor
Director of operations, IU-Kenya Partnership
When Julia Carson was first elected to Congress in 1996, I took a two-semester leave of absence from my job at the IU Law School in Indianapolis to serve as her chief of staff.
On our first trip to Washington together, some Capitol Hill veterans took a look at the new representative from what was then Indiana’s 10th Congressional District and pulled me aside. “I didn’t know Andy Jacobs represented a majority black district,” they whispered.
Of course, he didn’t, and she didn’t. The congressional district that encompassed most of Indianapolis was then about 72 percent white. But it is nearly unprecedented for such a voter demographic to send an African-American to Congress. These folks in Washington knew their politics, and they knew that race plays a huge role in the voting booth
Of course, there were plenty of seemingly savvy people in Indianapolis who also didn’t think Hoosiers would send Julia Carson to Congress. Before the Democratic primary in 1996, there where whispers that a black woman was unelectable. During the general election campaign, a local newscaster moderating a candidate debate asked Carson if she “still” paid off voters with flasks of liquor.
But the doubters under-estimated Julia Carson. And they under-estimated Indianapolis.
The election of Bill Clinton four years earlier was a signature American moment, not because of his politics but because a child born into an obscure and dysfunctional Arkansas family rose to become president of the United States. But compared to Julia Carson, Bill Clinton might as well have come from the House of Windsor.
Born poor, black and fatherless to a teenage mother in segregated Kentucky, there was no Rhodes Scholarship or Yale Law on Julia Carson’s resume. Instead, her credentials were that she had rubbed her mother’s aching feet after Velma Porter’s innumerable hard days as a domestic worker, then attended black-only Crispus Attucks High, endured a couple of failed marriages and never quite finished college.
Rough-and-tumble experiences did not disqualify Julia Carson from leading Indianapolis. Instead, they were part of what made her our congresswoman. True, she was undoubtedly smarter and more resourceful than the rest of us, and her personal kindness made ours just one of many Indianapolis families to ache with grief this past weekend. But an essential component of Julia Carson’s charm was that she had lived through the same hardships so many Hoosiers — white, black, poor and rich — had experienced. She was one of us.
And while she was in Congress, we were good. We were compassionate — we always supported better schools, health care for all and good jobs at fair wages. We made care for homeless veterans a priority.
We were also courageous. We voted against the Iraq War resolution in 2002 even though opinion polls and a well-funded opponent made it appear the vote would lead to the congresswoman’s defeat.
I’m not sure we are that good today. Most of us now agree with that Iraq War vote and share Julia Carson’s concern for the poorest of the poor. But when others suffer and die in vain, it doesn’t launch mass Indianapolis protests or mobilize voters the way that raising our property tax does.
We get furious about illegal immigrants coming here to scrub our floors and clean our toilets so they can support their families. But we have no corresponding passion to offer about dismal child care for babies of working parents, or the thousands of disabled homeless people living on our streets.
Julia Carson ran campaigns with slogans that asked us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Now, the local blueprint for electoral success is, “Had enough?”
Julia Carson died Saturday. It remains to be seen "