Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson was born in Waco at a time when race divided America, and Texas was no different.
She was inspired to fight for justice when she was in first grade. Johnson met Doris “Dorie” Miller who would later be recognized as an U.S. Navy war hero. He was a mess attendant who heroically leapt into combat during the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
“I met Mr. Miller when I was in the first grade. I shook his hand and I just knew that I wanted to do something to thank him for his service in the military," Johnson said. "I collected money in my neighborhood to buy him something nice for his return, but he never made it back."
Miller was killed at Pearl Harbor, but not before he saved countless lives by grabbing a weapon he was not trained on and firing at the enemy.
Johnson was instrumental in getting a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier named after Miller — the first to be named after an African American. The announcement was made in January.
Her fight to honor Miller will not end there. Johnson wants him to get the highest award: the Medal of Honor.
“We’ve been told it has had nothing to do with race and we have been told it had a lot to do with race," Johnson said. "I don’t know, but I do know this: It was not the race that caused him to have the courage to save our nation. I will never give up. I’m very grateful for them naming this ship that they are getting ready to build. He’s had all kinds of recognition, but the top medal is the one that I think he deserves, and I will go to my grave, probably, working for it.”
While that is her most recent accomplishment, Johnson is known for so much more, including many career firsts.
Johnson began her career as the first female African American chief psychiatric nurse at the V.A. Hospital in Dallas. In 1972, she became the first nurse ever elected to the Texas House of Representatives and received the same distinction when she was elected to the Texas Senate in 1986. She is also the first African-American and woman to chair the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.
“I sometimes say if I have made it look easy, then I apologize to you, because it’s not easy,” Johnson said. “It takes a degree of dedication. My mother and father used to say ‘you don’t give up if you believe in something.’ ”
The congresswoman is currently serving her 14th term representing the 30th Congressional District of Texas.