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Assistant minority caucus chair of the Indiana House of Representatives Indiana Senate Minority Whip The first African American and the first woman elected from Indianapolis to Congress
State House Rotunda, 3rd floor, Facing east, north corner
Julia May Porter was born in Louisville, KY on July 8, 1938 to a single mother. Soon after, the family moved to Indianapolis, where her mother was employed as a domestic worker.1 Julia Carson often explained that she “wasn’t born on Easy Street… but, my mother was always willing to share.”2 She worked a series of part-time jobs while attending Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis. After her graduation in 1955, she married, had two children and divorced shortly afterward. She later studied at Marion University and Indiana University in Bloomington.3
In 1965, Carson began working as a secretary at a local chapter of the United Auto Workers when she met newly elected Indiana Representative Andy Jacobs. Rep. Jacobs hired Carson as a caseworker and district aid. She worked for Rep. Jacobs for seven years until 1972, when he encouraged her to “step up” and run for the Indiana State Legislature.4 Carson was elected to the Indiana House of Representatives in 1973, where she served as the assistant minority caucus chair, before winning a seat in the Indiana Senate. She served in this body from 1978 until 1990, where she sat on the finance committee and eventually held the post of minority whip.5 In 1991, Carson was elected as a Center Township Trustee in Marion County. In this position, she administered welfare payments in Indianapolis, earning a reputation for defending the poor which would continue throughout her career. During her tenure, she was successful in “wrestling that [debt] monster to the ground,” easing the office’s $20 million deficit into a $7 million surplus.6
When Rep. Jacobs retired from Congress in 1996, Carson won his endorsement and the seat, becoming the first African American and the first woman elected from Indianapolis to Congress.7 She would go on to become a six-term congresswoman, serving on the finance, veterans’ affairs, and transportation and infrastructure committees. Carson championed civil rights, women’s rights, and the working poor, seeking “to expand the opportunities for others, to end inequalities in our society and to seek justice for every American.”8 She also succeeded in securing a Congressional Gold Medal for civil rights leader Rosa Parks in 1996.9
During her time in Congress Carson battled with health concerns. She was sworn into Congress from her hospital bed in 1997 due to heart surgery. Additionally, she struggled with asthma, diabetes, and hypertension. In September 2007, she was diagnosed with lung cancer and died just a few months later.10
Within the numerous eulogies about her life, Julia Carson was remembered for her grace, heart, political savvy and as a woman of firsts. She was the first African American woman to run for countrywide office in Marion County and statewide office in Indiana.11 She, and Katie Hall, were the first black women to serve in the Indiana Senate in 1976.12 She was the first African American to represent Indianapolis in Congress and the first minority and woman to lie in state in the Indiana State House.13 This memorial is also the first female bust to be installed in the State House.
The process of funding this bust started with the Indiana General Assembly, which passed House Enrolled Act 1818. This legislation mandated the commission of a permanent black history display in the Indiana State House.14 In accordance with this act, the Indiana Department of Administration, Indiana Historical Bureau and Indiana Black Legislative Caucus decided that a public art legacy project should be installed, bringing more diversity to the Indiana State House sculpture collection. Jon Hair was selected to create two traditional bronze busts to celebrate the public service of James Sidney Hinton and Julia May Carson. These busts were installed on January 16, 2014 as part of a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration at the Indiana State House.15
Jon Hair is a well known sculptor with over eighty major public work commissions. He has degrees from Ohio State University and Columbus College of Art & Design. Hair has completed sculptures for the U.S. Olympic Committee, The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, the cities of Beijing and Shanghai, and 35 American colleges. In Indiana, his work can be seen on the campus of Purdue University.16