Irma Carson

Honorary Degrees

California State University, Bakersfield​

Born in the segregated South in 1935, Irma Carson is a founding leader in the advancement of racial and gender justice in Bakersfield. When she arrived with her family from St. Louis in 1953, Bakersfield offered few opportunities to Black women. Through perseverance, courage and an indomitable spirit, Mrs. Carson launched a career distinguished by many firsts in her adopted hometown, improving the lives of the people of this region and uplifting her community in a stunning number of public service roles: criminal justice, education, government and social service.  

In 1959, Mrs. Carson broke barriers as the first Black woman to be employed at City Hall. Nearly a decade later, Mrs. Carson accepted an invitation by the Bakersfield police chief to become the department's first Black policewoman, eventually moving up the ranks to homicide detective and sergeant, before retiring from the force in 1989. 

In 1978, at age 43, Mrs. Carson earned her bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice from CSU Bakersfield. A year later, she launched her first campaign for elective office, running for a seat on the board of the Bakersfield City School District, the largest elementary school district in the state. She would serve on the board for 15 years. 

In 1994, voters elected Mrs. Carson to the Bakersfield City Council, making her the first—and to this day, only—Black woman to serve constituents in the state's ninth largest city. In Ward 1, she represented the city's southeast neighborhoods for 16 years, a sector that had long been overlooked and underrepresented. Her visionary, ambitious agenda for community revitalization gave voice to the unique challenges—racism, poverty, lack of opportunity— facing so many of her constituents.  

Mrs. Carson traces her social consciousness and desire to make a difference to her upbringing in the segregated city of St. Louis and her first experience with racial prejudice at eight years old, when she had a job washing the windows of a candy store. Perhaps Mrs. Carson's most enduring legacy is the example she has provided to the generations of women and Black residents who have followed her into public life, citing her courage, wisdom and determination as their north star. 

In recognition of her breakthrough career as a Black policewoman, her decades-long commitment to Bakersfield community, and being a constant heroine for women in public service, the California State University and California State University, Bakersfield are proud to confer upon Irma Carson the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.