Trailblazing Congresswoman Dead at 69

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Julia Carson

Rep. Julia Carson (D-IN) Getty Images hide caption

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In 1996, Julia Carson became the first African-American and the first woman to represent the city of Indianapolis in Congress. She died Saturday of lung cancer at the age of 69.

Carson, a Democrat, grew up in poverty and as a divorced mother, raised two children and grandchildren on her own, an experience that led her to become an outspoken advocate for the rights of women and children after winning a seat in Congress.

At the funeral for Rosa Parks two years ago, she spoke about her struggle and how it shaped her views of public service.

"When I was first elected to the United States Congress from a white city I was sitting there at my desk one night trying to figure out what could I do first. … So I called over to see if Rosa Parks had ever received a Congressional Gold Medal … and they assured [me] she had not, and I said, 'she may not have [received the medal] but she is getting ready to get one,'" reflected Carson at Parks' memorial service in 2005.

Even after becoming a lawmaker in Indiana, she recalls how she continued to feel the sting of racism as an African-American far into adult life. Carson remarked how she was once was mistaken by a congressional staffer as a maintenance worker, rather than a legislator.

In her later years, Julia Carson became a strong advocate of veterans' affairs and a strong opponent of the Iraq war.

Carson is survived by two children and two grandchildren.



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