INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Rep. Julia Carson, who rose from a childhood of poverty and segregation to become the first black and first woman to represent Indianapolis in Congress, died Saturday. She was 69.

Carson died of lung cancer at her home, where she had spent the past several weeks, family spokeswoman Vanessa Summers said.

Carson had persevered through major heart surgery and years of health problems before revealing her lung cancer last month, saying she would not seek election in 2008 to a seventh term. Carson had been away from Washington since late September, when she was hospitalized with a leg infection.

Carson, a Democrat, was first elected to Congress in 1996. She championed children’s issues, women’s rights and efforts to reduce homelessness, and was a staunch opponent of the war in Iraq.

“Julia Carson overcame much and accomplished much, and devoted her life to helping other people do the same,” Sen. Evan Bayh, an Indiana Democrat, said in a statement. “She was elected to important public offices, but never forgot who she was, where she came from or who she was there to serve.”

Carson opposed the war in Iraq and told hundreds of people at a rally in downtown Indianapolis just weeks before the 2003 invasion that it was an act of aggression only to protect U.S. oil interests.

“Truly, it is all in the name of greed and truly in the name of war,” she said. “We should have learned by the Vietnam War, but we did not.”

Carson was born to a single mother who worked as a housekeeper. She graduated in 1955 from the same segregated high school as basketball star Oscar Robertson.

She began her political career in the 1960s when then-Rep. Andy Jacobs Jr. hired her to work in his office. Jacobs encouraged Carson to run for the Indiana Legislature in 1972 – the first of more than two dozen victories in local, legislative and congressional elections. She ran for Congress in 1996 after Jacobs retired.

During her 11 years in Congress, Carson’s highest-profile action came in 1999, when she pushed for the legislation granting the Congressional Gold Medal to Rosa Parks, the black woman who refused to give up her seat on a segregated city bus in Montgomery, Ala., and was arrested for her defiance.

“It was a fitting cause for her, as Julia Carson and Rosa Parks shared a quiet determination, a fierce sense of purpose and a total commitment to the ideal equality,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

Carson had suffered in recent years from high blood pressure, asthma and diabetes. She missed dozens of House votes in 2004 because of illness and spent the weekend before the 2004 election in the hospital for what she said was a flu shot reaction – but still won re-election by 10 percentage points.

Gov. Mitch Daniels will have to call a special election to choose a replacement for the last year of Carson’s term.

Arrangements were being made to have Carson’s body lie at the rotunda in the Indiana Statehouse, the governor’s office said.

AP-ES-12-15-07 1949EST


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