The new year began in Texas with the passing of a towering figure in state politics: Eddie Bernice Johnson.
Before her retirement in 2022, Johnson had become the dean of the Texas congressional delegation, serving nearly 30 years in Congress.
Johnson was born in Waco and took office representing Texas’s 30th Congressional District – which includes South Dallas, DeSoto, Lancaster and Cedar Hill, among other places – in 1993. She was known as a trailblazing Dallas Democrat, and among many firsts in her career, she was the first registered nurse elected to Congress.
According to The Texas Tribune, the story goes that after nursing school in Indiana, Johnson landed a job at a VA hospital in Dallas and found that she faced a great deal of open discrimination as a Black woman. High-end Dallas retailers prevented Johnson from entering their stores until she befriended a white saleswoman at Neiman Marcus, who introduced her to the company’s CEO, Stanley Marcus.
Marcus reportedly spotted Johnson’s political potential and offered her a job at the retailer on the condition that she run for the Texas Legislature in 1972. She did just that and was elected to the state House of Representatives — the first Black woman elected to any seat from Dallas. Eventually she would become the first Black Dallasite to serve in Congress and only the third woman from Texas to represent the Lone Star State in the U.S. House.
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U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, who represents the Fort Worth area, considered Johnson a mentor. He said she was a pragmatist who worked across the aisle to get things done.
“She wasn’t afraid to call out the Republicans when they needed to be called out. But when it came time to make sure that she could deliver something that was needed to the citizens of Dallas County, she worked very hard to do that,” Veasey said. “After the ’94 elections up until 2006, the House was in Republican control. And Eddie would tell you that she worked with figures like [longtime U.S. Rep. and former House majority leader] Tom DeLay, for instance, to make sure that she was able to deliver very much needed vital transportation dollars to the Dallas-Fort Worth area.”
Veasey said Johnson, who served on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in Congress, will be remembered for her work on transportation issues.
“There’s a DART station in Dallas, the downtown DART station, the main station there is named in her honor,” he said. “It was really her idea to do an annual transportation summit here in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex that many members of the Texas congressional delegation and people from Washington, D.C., would fly down for … because she understood that was what was going to be critical in order for the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex to continue to grow. And then, of course, her work when it came to both major airports: She was very adamant that both DFW and Love Field be as strong as possible.”
Johnson also had a big impact as the chair of the Science and Technology Committee, Veasey said.
“She worked very hard to get the CHIPS Act passed, and she was very proud of getting the CHIPS Act passed because she came about in a political age in Dallas where Texas Instruments was just taking off,” he said. “She knew that the CHIPS Act in particular would be so good, not just for the country and our national security, but she knew that from an economic standpoint that it would be amazing for Dallas because of those legacy companies.”
Veasey offered his condolences to Johnson’s family and all those who knew her.
Correction: The audio accompanying this story incorrectly states that Tom DeLay was speaker of the House. He was House majority leader.