The U.S. Capitol police are commemorating Black history month by highlighting historic achievements among their ranks over the years. They sat down with Arva "Marie" Johnson for an interview remembering her experience joining the force, becoming the first Black woman to wear the USCP badge.
She talked about her challenges from the beginning but said she soon knew it was the right choice and earned the respect of the other officers, kicking off a career protecting lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
"When I started working for Capitol Police, it was Oct. 15, 1974, I called them every chance I had 'cause I wanted to get hired. It was a little scary at first, but then I said, I can do this. Because, I come from a strong background, in North Carolina anyway, go for what you want. Go for what you want, and do it, and pray on it too," Johnson said of her first experience starting the job.
At the time, Johnson says that many aspects of working life were not yet tailored for diversity. But, she said she pushed through the hurdles in front of her, with strength and determination.
"Back when I came on the department, they did not have female uniforms. When I came on day shift, there was no locker room for females. I worked on the midnight shift for maybe about a year or two. Then I asked for a transfer to day shift, and it was hard to get a babysitter at that time. And they worked with me and I was able to get on day shift. And then I had to be in the break room with all of the guys. And it was almost like nobody really wanted to talk to you. Matter of fact, one officer said, don't you think you would feel better at home in the kitchen? I said 'no,'" Johnson remembered.
She made it work and knew she would overcome the challenges.
"But, I survived all of that and I got their respect, and I had their respect back," she said.
One of the most challenging times on the job for Johnson came on July 24, 1998, when a gunman shot and killed two of her fellow law enforcement officers inside the Capitol. Their names were Detective John Gibson and Officer Jacob Chestnut.
Johnson, speaking emotionally about that day, said, "It was hard to work through that, because I knew them both and I worked personally with them both. And, it came over the radio that the Capitol had been breached and that two officers was down. And, it went over the radio who they were. And then locked everything down...it was like a family, and that's what I wanted for this department, to be more like a family."
After 32 years working as a Capitol Police officer, in 2006 Johnson retired from the force.
"Everybody said, 'but, you made history', and I said 'I did?' I said 'well, I thank God for that, because to me I was just a normal person that wanted the job, and was gonna get paid $10,500 dollars. I wouldn't trade it for anything," Johnson said.