Born in Kentucky but raised in Indiana, Julia Carson grew up poor in the public school system. She graduated from Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis in 1955 and went on to study at Martin University and Indiana University. In 1965, while working as a secretary at a local chapter of United Auto Workers, she met newly-elected Representative Andy Jacobs. He quickly hired her as a caseworker and district aide, and she worked for him until 1972, when he encouraged her to run for office in the Indiana legislature.
After serving two terms in the House of Representatives, Carson was elected to the Indiana State Senate in 1976 and stayed there for 14 years. In 1990, Carson was elected trustee for Center Township, an agency providing assistance for the needy that she dug out of debt, earning her a Woman of the Year award from the Indianapolis Star in 1992. In 1996, she became the first woman and African American to represent Indianapolis in the U.S. Congress. She was reelected in 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, and 2006. Her terms focused on funding for schools, increasing food safety and blocking children’s access to handguns, among other issues.
Carson died of lung disease in her Indianapolis home on December 15, 2007. She lay in state in the statehouse in Indianapolis on December 21.