Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Selina. Selina Wonders, “Texas History” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Selina!
You’ve probably heard the word “represent.” You might represent your school in a competition. A logo, like the golden arches, might represent a brand. Sports or movie stars might hire agents to represent them.
In a republic, officials represent citizens in government. Communities choose people to speak and act for them. Some of these people are called Representatives. There are Representatives in many state legislatures as well as the United States Congress. Their job is to listen to the people in their communities—their constituents. Then they work to write and pass laws to improve life for everyone.
Today’s Wonder is about Eddie Bernice Johnson. When she retired in 2023, she was one of the longest serving Representatives in U. S. history. She represented her Texas community in Congress for 30 years! Her life experiences inspired her to work to make laws that were fair and inclusive.
Bernice Johnson grew up in Waco, Texas in a segregated community. Her parents took their children to see plays at the theater. However, they could only go on “Black days.” Waco had separate schools for White and Black children. Bernice Johnson graduated from the Black high school.
When she was little, Bernice Johnson wanted to become a doctor. However, in the 1940s and 1950s, most doctors were men. Her teachers told her that girls had to be nurses. However, there was not a Black nursing school in Texas. So Bernice Johnson moved to Indiana to attend college. Bernice Johnson graduated with a degree in nursing.
Bernice Johnson moved back to Texas. She got a nursing job at the Veterans Administration (VA) hospital in Dallas. In her job, she faced more discrimination. She could not live in the dormitory with the White nurses.
These experiences with racial and gender discrimination lead Bernice Johnson to become an activist. She advocated for changes in her community. For example, she learned that only White women could try on hats and clothes in Dallas stores. So Bernice Johnson planned a boycott with other Black women. They would not shop in the stores until the rule was changed. It worked! Store managers began allowing everyone to try on hats and clothes.
Bernice Johnson also campaigned to help elect Black candidates to public office. In 1972, she decided to run for office herself. She ran to become the Representative for District 33 in the Texas House. Bernice Johnson won! She became the first black woman to serve as an elected official from Dallas. Bernice Johnson worked to pass laws to make healthcare and education more inclusive.
After serving in state government for over 20 years, Eddie Bernice Johnson ran for office as a federal Representative. In 1993, she won her election. She was the first nurse to serve in the United States Congress. The citizens of her district reelected Bernice Johnson 14 times!
Bernice Johnson used her work in healthcare during her time in Congress. She served on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. This group suggests laws and policies for all types of science—energy, weather, space, technology, and the environment. They also advise how to spend government money for science scholarships and research.
While working on this committee, Bernice Johnson advocated for fair laws. She wanted to give women and people of color opportunities to study and work in STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math. She also hoped to encourage people from different places and with different backgrounds to work in the sciences.
Eddie Bernice Johnson has advocated for change throughout her life. First, she was an activist in her community. Then she took her experiences and skills to politics. As a Representative in Texas and in Congress, she fought for fair and inclusive laws.
Are you Wondering about the lives of other Representatives? What inspires them to run for office?
Standards: CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.4, CCRA.L.5, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.W.1, NCAS.CR.1, D2.Civ.1, D2.Civ.1.3-5, D2.Civ.2.3-5, D.2.Civ.4.3-5