Julia Carson laid to rest

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An honor guard member stands at attention by the flag-drapped casket of Rep. Julia Carson at the Indiana State House Rotunda Friday morning. (Matt Kryger / The Star)

Hat Tip: By Will Higgins, The Indianapolis Star

The 2,000 people who attended U.S. Rep. Julia Carson’s funeral Saturday got more than just spirited preaching. They got a look behind the curtain at the congresswoman’s legendary but little-understood influence. 

Carson, the first black and first woman to represent Indianapolis in Congress, died of lung cancer Dec. 15 at her Indianapolis home. She was 69. 

The four-hour service at Eastern Star Church in Indianapolis was followed by a procession to Crown Hill Cemetery, where a military presentation featuring a rifle salute preceded her burial. 

Gov. Mitch Daniels, Sens. Evan Bayh and Richard Lugar, former Sen. Birch Bayh and Mayor Bart Peterson were among about two dozen people who spoke during the service about the impact Carson had on their lives and on the lives of others. 

Peterson said that before he ran for mayor, he flew to Washington, D.C., for Carson‘s blessing. “I would not have been elected without her,” he said. “What may be less known is that I couldn’t have done this job without her guidance.” 

State Rep. Bill Crawford, D-Indianapolis, chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, said it was Carson who urged him to run for public office. “I’d never thought of it,” Crawford said. “Julia saw in me something I hadn’t seen.” 

Marion Superior Court Judge David Shaheed’s story was the topper. He recalled several years ago telling Carson he was interested in public office. He didn’t know which office, but the idea of service appealed to him. Later, she invited him to her home, where some movers and shakers had gathered.

“She introduced me around the room as her candidate for judge,” Shaheed said. A judge he became and remains. 

In the week since Carson‘s death, stories of her personal warmth and charisma dominated the outpouring of remembrances. There were many more such stories at her funeral.

A voice for justice

Carson‘s was a festive funeral — a “home-going,” said Jeffrey A. Johnson, Eastern Star’s senior pastor. As Carson‘s casket was carried into the sanctuary, the mourners broke into sustained applause.

Several musical selections, a Scripture reading and prayer preceded remarks by dignitaries. Daniels recalled being touched that Carson came to his father’s funeral.

“All of our political arguments are so small,” Daniels said, “compared to what Julia knew — that we’re all one in Jesus Christ.”Lugar, R-Ind., said he was thankful for the friendship he had with Carson and spoke about how much of an inspiration she was for him and others.

“It didn’t matter where she was; she kept talking about justice,” he said. “She also talked about education and health care and justice, civil justice and racial justice. She not only talked about it, but she was by far the most remarkable political figure I have ever seen in attaining all of these things.

“It is important for each one of us to have the idealism of Julia Carson.” Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., touched on Carson’s humility.“I don’t think she ever said no to anybody who needed her,” he said. He also spoke about her courage and said she didn’t think about what was popular.

“She only knew what was right and what was wrong, and was always willing to stand up for what was right.”Carson “walked with kings but did not lose the common touch,” he said, paraphrasing the poet Rudyard Kipling.

“Good night, sweet Julia”

Each speaker was greeted warmly, several drawing standing ovations, including Peterson and former U.S. Rep. Andy Jacobs.It was Jacobs who gave Carson her start in politics.

He recalled meeting her in 1965, shortly after he first won election. She was working for a labor union, United Auto Workers Local 550, and he asked her to join his staff.“She conferred with her mother,” according to the obituary in the church bulletin, “who told her that Mr. Jacobs was really a Congressman.”

His authenticity established, she took the job and had remained in politics ever since. On Friday, she became the first woman to lie in repose in the Statehouse.

Despite all the praise, Jacobs insisted there was much more to his “little sister.” Because of her modesty, Jacobs said, “the public hasn’t scratched the surface of her accomplishments. Over time, her legacy will grow.” He teared up toward the end of his remarks as he said, “Good night, sweet Julia. May choirs of angels sing thee to thy rest.”

Several of Carson’s grandchildren spoke after Jacobs gave his remarks, including Andre Carson and her eldest grandson, Sam Carson IV.

About three hours into the funeral, Sam Carson, recalling how he used to drive his grandmother and act as her security detail, told the audience: “We went to a lot of funerals together, and I have to tell you, if we’d been at this one, we’d have been gone an hour ago.”

Endorsements for a grandson 

Peterson, who recently lost his bid for re-election as mayor, was rumored to be interested in Carson’s seat after Carson said last month she did not plan to seek re-election. On Wednesday, he announced he would not be a candidate.A half-dozen others are reportedly interested in the job, including Carson’s grandson Andre, who was elected to the City-County Council last month.

Andre Carson has not announced his candidacy, but momentum for him seemed to gather Saturday, with several of his grandmother’s eulogists coming out strongly for him.U.S. Reps. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio, and Carolyn Kilpatrick, D-Mich., chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, were among about a dozen or so members of Congress at the funeral.

Both said they sat beside Carson near the end of her life and heard her say “Andre.” They encouraged voters to choose him to fill her seat.“If you love me, send my seed,” Kilpatrick said Carson told her. The remark drew loud applause.

Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan echoed the earlier calls for Andre Carson to succeed her in Washington.“She lives in the spiritual sense,” he said. “She lives in those whom she touched. She lives in Andre. She wants him to succeed her in service to the people. She wants him to be a good servant.”

When it was his turn to speak, Andre Carson talked only of his beloved grandmother.“She was a Christian woman,” he said. “But she had a universal nature.” He referred to her celebrated ability to mingle comfortably in any group.

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