For more than half of her life, Eddie Bernice Johnson has been in politics.
“It is the type of job that one if you are really into it, the time passes without you even really realizing its passing, “ said Congresswoman Johnson.
Throughout her career, she has broken barriers, and glass ceilings along the way. She was the first black woman ever elected from the City of Dallas when she was elected to the Texas House, and then the first black state Senator from Dallas since reconstruction.
“It’s very, very important. Everybody likes representation and certainly, Black people would like to see someone of their kind in every arena where decisions are being made,” said Johnson when she was elected to the state Senate.
She has seen a lot of change, and challenges, which she reflected on when we spoke to her at the station that bears her name, Eddie Bernice Johnson Union Station. The Congresswoman says the biggest challenge came early in her career. After becoming a nurse, she had an interview at the VA in Dallas. She was known as Eddie B. Johnson, and the head nurse expected a man.
“But she said to me you will break new ground to come here, but it’s needed,” remembered Johnson.
Her entrance into politics was when she went downtown to buy a dress for a friend’s wedding.
“That’s when I realized that African American women could not try on clothes in our major stores,” said Johnson.
She became part of a group calling for change, and one of the organizers decided she should be on the ballot for the Texas House. She won and joined a group of freshman women including then Kay Bailey, and Sarah Heddington. At the time, the largest group of women ever in the house.
“I think the first piece of legislation that we worked on was women having their own credit. In this state, a married woman could not get credit in her own name. It had to be in her husband’s name,” said Johnson.
She went onto Congress in 1992.
“I was determined to use whatever opportunity I had to enhance something back home,” she said.
Johnson rose up to be the first African-American and the first woman to chair the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. A dean of the Texas delegation, she has said she always has tried to work across the aisle.
“One of the things I have tried to do over the years is begin conversations with people that seem to have the opposite view of mine because it has to mean that somewhere in their lives they have seen things very differently than what I have seen, and it has paid off,” said Congresswoman Johnson.
But Congresswoman Johnson acknowledges as the years passed, working together has gotten tougher.
“I have seen moderation go to extremism which is really not pleasant. It makes it much more difficult,” said Congresswoman Johnson.
While she has seen progress, Congresswoman Johnson believes there is more to come.
“I have seen a lot of opportunities. I have seen a lot of change, but sometimes the more change you see the more things remain the same. Out of all of the change that I have seen, racism is still alive. You just cannot allow it to bury you down,” said Congresswoman Johnson.
For the 15-term congresswoman, the accomplishments have piled up. But for Johnson, it was always about looking forward.
“This is a busy job, and it is very time-consuming, and you cannot rest your laurels on the past,” she added.
Such a busy job, that with it, was her first opportunity to look back at her picture, hanging at Eddie Bernice Johnson Union Station,
“That is my committee picture when I first became chair of my committee, and my great-grandchildren I guess and generations to come will see that, and that probably means more to me than anything else,” said Congresswoman Johnson.