Former Star reporter Joe Gelarden remembers Julia Carson

Dateline: Tue 18 Dec 2007

Here is what Joe wrote from his home in Maine:

"The other day, I crunched out in the snow and drove to the market to buy the NY Times. It is my big vice. I confess to loving a great newspaper.

"Now, there is not much Hoosier news in the NY Times outside the sport page. But on an inside page was an obit for Julia Carson.

"Damn. Julia died, " I said out loud.

"When she announced that she was retiring, I told myself I should drop her a note, but I got busy and failed. My bad. If I had sent her a note, it would have gone something like this.

Dear Miz, Carson,

We shared a lot of laughs, Like when Indiana House Democratic Party leadership pleaded with you to make sure Skinny Alexander didn't do anything stupid, like get drunk on the lobbyists' booze and vote for Gov. Bowen's tax reform package. If I remember right, you failed in that task.

"I remember the election day when you led me into a ticket joint on Indiana Avenue. You walked in and all the boys smiled. I followed. You have to understand that when a middle-aged white guy in red ski jacket walks into an illegal Indiana Avenue ticket joint, the management says two words: 'Vice Squad.'

"The customers all headed for the back door when you told them, 'slow down. It is OK. He's with me.'"

"About that time, The Star sent me to attend the Democratic Party's 1978 mini convention in Memphis, Tenn. There was not much news at that event, although the New Yorker's Elizabeth Drew spent more than 50 pages explaining the various positions that the non-newsmakers took. No one, not Drew, not Gelarden, mentioned the parade of Iranian students who marched out side the hall.

"The next day, a chilly Sunday morning, I joined you and a few other Hoosiers on a visit to the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Maretin Luther King

was gunned down.

"For me it was a visit. For Julia it was a pilgrimage.

"In 1978, the Lorraine Motel was a pretty run-down place. I am being kind in that description. We were ushered to the third floor balcony by a strange little man wearing, a green zoot suit that would have make Perry Smith turn green with envy. I am not making this up.

"He took us into the room where Dr. Martin Luther King was staying and showed us the dishes that were used for dinner. I recall Dr. King had had a few bites of fried fish. The bones and crusts were still on the plate.

"Then I walked outside and glanced up the hill to where a sniper steadied his rifle on a window sill and fired a shot that silenced a dreamer, but not his dream. Looking back into the room, you were in tears. I got the message. That run-down motel was a a shrine, a sort of combination Bethlehem, Lourdes, Mecca, and all the other holy places in all the other villages in the world.

"And this strong woman, and Miz Carson you were strong, make no doubt about that, had been reduced to tears by the place and the memories of

a man who made a huge difference in her life.

:The other day, as I sat at my dinner table reading the New York Times, I understood that Julia Carson helped turn King's dream into reality.

God Bless you, Julia.

Your pal,

Joe Gelarden

Retired (and getting better at it every day.)

From the grey house in the woods on Bradley Road.

East Boothbay, Maine"

Thanks to Joe and deepest condolences to all of Rep. Carson's friends and family. Speaking of shrines, there is one south of 38th all the way to 34th: the yards are lined with "I heart Julia" signs. There are also several in the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood where I'm staying for a few days.

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