FIRST BLACK FEMALE (UNDERCOVER FBI AGENT)
I was teenager when I first saw the film “Johnnie Mae Gibson, FBI.” The movie is about the ‘ first black female undercover agent,’ in FBI history, portrayed by actress Lynn Whitfield and directed by Bill Duke. The film motivated me so much, seeing the positive portrayal of a strong and intelligent African American woman in Federal law enforcement, a rarity at that time; that I decided to contact Mrs. Gibson at FBI headquarters, she was very nice and cordial and she took the time to inspire me in my future endeavors. -MP
JOHNNIE MAE GIBSON:
Born in Caryville, Florida, in 1949, Gibson met and married her husband, Marvin, while she was a student at Albany State College. Soon after her marriage, she gave birth to a daughter, Tiffany Michele. Despite her responsibilities as a wife and mother, Gibson still managed to complete her education. She earned an associate's degree in nursing from Chipola Junior College in Marianna, Florida; a bachelor's degree from Albany State College in Albany, Georgia; and a master's degree in education from Georgia State University.
In 1956, Johnnie remembers an incident that shaped her life. Sadly, her mother had a seriously disabling stroke and during the time Johnnie was exhibiting a quiet determination and take charge attitude. Seven years later, Johnnie is beaten by her father when, disregarding his orders, she accepts a holiday turkey from some white people. ''The world won't stop whipping you,'' her father warns. ''You got to learn to bend.'' During the beating, Johnnie was so strong willed, she never shed a tear. Five years later, Johnnie is leaving for college with the following declaration ''I'm gonna make you real proud of me.''
With Gibson's education and background, she could have chosen any of a number of careers. Mark Schwed, an editor for UPI TV, reported that, "Even though... her Secret Service friends were trying to lure her into the fold, Gibson chose to sign with the FBI and became only the fifth black woman agent in the bureau's history." Gibson first considered the FBI while working as a court services officer with the Albany, Georgia Police Department. An FBI agent who was working on a case with Gibson asked her if she had any interest in becoming an agent. "The background investigation lasted from 4 to 6 months," Gibson related in an interview with Contemporary Black Biography, "Meanwhile, I had a 3-year old daughter, Tiffany, at home and I was married. I was informed that I had two weeks to prepare myself to go away to the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. I informed my superior there at the Albany Georgia Police Department. They were very happy for me. I left the Police Department in October, during the winter months. I didn't have many winter clothes with me. I traveled to Quantico, Virginia with all expenses paid by the FBI."
The first agent trainee Gibson met the morning she arrived at the FBI Academy was an African American male. Of the 32 members of her class, there were two African American females, two white females and a mixture of white males, African American males, and Hispanic males. "We spent a total of 16 weeks at the FBI Academy in Quantico Virginia," Gibson remarked to CBB. "It was probably one of the most unforgettable experiences I've ever had in my entire life. It was the most stressful experience that I've ever undergone, yet, one of the most challenging experiences that I've encountered, one that I will never forget." She remarked further that the decision to become an FBI agent "was, by far, the hardest thing that I've ever done in my entire life. I had to leave my little girl...and my husband to go away and try to find a new career in something which I knew absolutely nothing about....The first encounter with law enforcement I ever had was with the Albany Georgia Police Department. And here I was ... becoming a member of the most elite law enforcement agency in the world. This was truly an exciting yet devastating experience for me." Gibson successfully completed her training and became an FBI agent.
Gibson was responsible for busting one of the biggest black cocaine dealers in this country and she also worked underworld cases.
While working in the office of the FBI director, Gibson was contacted by CBS and informed that they wanted to do a movie about her life. The movie aired in October of 1986. Joseph Volz of the Daily News (News Washington Bureau) stated, "The FBI gave Gibson the go-ahead and cooperated by supplying agents on the set as technical advisers..." Gibson told CBB, "The movie was the first time in FBI history that a project such as this had been done. It set a precedent and took four years from the time I was contacted in 1982 until 1986 to get all the approvals, to get the scripts done and aired....Director Webster was very positive and supportive of the movie." Mike Shepard of theAlbany (GA) Herald wrote that at the time CBS aired the movie, "Gibson was one of only two black female supervisors in the FBI."
Most people only dream of a life as full of adventure and intrigue as that of Gibson. However, she has paid a high price for her success. "If I told of all the harassment that I have received from white and black males during my years in the FBI, anyone would wonder, 'How did you stand it. How did you take it,'" Gibson told CBB. "I can't give up. I have to keep fighting...There were too many black females who really depended on me as if to say, "If you don't make it, we never will."
In December of 1999, Gibson retired from the FBI after 23 years. During her law enforcement career, she witnessed a great deal of abuse perpetrated against women and children. She planned to pursue a career that would allow her to serve as a role model for young people and assist battered women and abused children.
Gibson received the following awards in her career: First Special Agent in the FBI to have a movie done about her life and work while still on active duty, 1986; "Pioneers and Progress in Law Enforcement, A Salute to Women," Certificate of Merit, National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives Georgia Chapter, 1987.