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Texas trailblazer Eddie Bernice Johnson dies at 88

Democrat served three decades in Congress

Former Texas Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson is seen here at a news conference with other House Democrats in April 2019.
Former Texas Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson is seen here at a news conference with other House Democrats in April 2019. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Former Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, died at the age of 88, her family announced Sunday. 

Colleagues and friends celebrated her legacy as a woman of many firsts — the first Black head psychiatric nurse at the Dallas VA hospital, the first nurse elected to Congress, and the first African American and first woman to chair the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. 

Johnson was a “quiet storm,” according to her successor in Congress, Rep. Jasmine Crockett. She was a “trailblazer,” according to the man who currently holds the Congressional Black Caucus chair she once did, Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev. And to President Joe Biden, she was “an icon and a mentor to generations of public servants.”

Johnson is pictured here in 1992 just before her first election to Congress. (Maureen Keating/CQ Roll Call)

Johnson was born in Waco, Texas, in 1935. She earned a nursing degree from Texas Christian University, where she joined the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, and later earned a master’s degree in public administration from Southern Methodist University.

After working as the chief psychiatric nurse at a Dallas veterans’ hospital, Johnson was elected to the Texas House of Representatives. President Jimmy Carter then tapped her to serve as a regional director for the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Following her stint in the executive branch, Johnson won a seat in the state Senate.

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, waits to speak during the Good Trouble Candlelight Vigil for Democracy in Washington, D.C., on July 17, 2021. Vigils were held around the country to mark the first anniversary of the death of Rep. John Lewis, who was a leader of the civil rights movement. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

In 1992, Johnson easily won her election to the U.S. House, becoming the first Black person to represent the Dallas area. Four years later, Johnson faced a restructured district following a Supreme Court ruling that some districts were “racial gerrymanders,” but Johnson garnered enough votes to maintain her seat.

Johnson retired at the end of her 15th term in 2023. In a press release Sunday, Crockett, whom Johnson endorsed to take over her seat, reflected on her predecessor’s legacy. “Today, the world has lost a trailblazer, and Texas has lost one of its most dedicated public servants and iconic leaders,” Crockett wrote. “As I conclude this statement, fighting back tears, I say rest easy to the Gentle Lady from Texas and just know that I will always fight to preserve the foundation that you laid over your 50 years of service to Texas and the United States.”

Johnson was an advocate for her district and for STEM education — science, technology, engineering and math — during her time in Congress. She served first as ranking member and then as chair of the Science, Space and Technology panel, overseeing NASA and space research policies. 

In her final term, she helped oversee passage of the CHIPS and Science Act, which provided hundreds of billions of dollars in new subsidies for domestic semiconductor manufacturing and related industries. 

Johnson stands behind President Joe Biden as he signs the the CHIPS and Science Act at the White House on Aug. 9, 2022. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Texas Democrat founded the Diversity and Innovation Caucus; Crockett credited Johnson for including investments for research and STEM at historically black colleges and universities. “For decades to come, her work will live on,” Crockett wrote. 

Horsford noted Johnson’s work on improving the Dallas region’s traffic woes. “Congresswoman Johnson was instrumental in delivering hundreds of millions of dollars towards revitalizing transportation in Texas — most notably for the Southern Gateway Project and the DART Rail System, for which Dallas’ DART and Amtrak rail center was renamed the Eddie Bernice Johnson Union Station in her honor,” he wrote. 

While chairing the CBC in 2002, she opposed the resolution authorizing the invasion of Iraq. 

Johnson is survived by her son, Kirk, and her grandchildren. 

Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.

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