Gibson, Johnnie Mae 1949–
Johnnie Mae Gibson 1949–
Law enforcement executive
In addition to her role in improving FBI community relations, Johnnie Mae Gibson is best known for recruiting minorities and paving the way for them in the FBI. According to an article published in Ebony, Gibson’s “early undercover work in fugitive, organized crime, and political corruption cases helped her develop an outstanding arrest record and establish a reputation as a highly skilled professional.” The article goes on to say, “People who have worked with her have been impressed because of her remarkable cool under pressure.”
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 man-aged 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.
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 become 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, “Mean-while, 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
Born Johnnie Mae Maldon, March 1, 1949, in Caryville, FL; married Marvin Gibson; children; Tiffany Michele. Education: Associate’s degree in Nursing, Chipola Junior College, Marianna, FL; bachelor’s degree, Albany State College, Albany, GA; master’s degree in education, Georgia State University.
Career: Court liaison officer, Albany Georgia Police Department, 1972-76; FBI special agent, Miami Field Office, 1976-79; Washington Field Office, 1979-81; financial crimes unit supervisor, 1981-82; FBI Head-quarters, supervisory special agent to FBI Director William Webster, Minority Media and Public Relations, 1982-87; FBI informant unit supervisor, 1987-88; FBI fugitive and bank robbery supervisor, Detroit Division, 1988-89; civil rights, domestic terrorism, and applicant background investigation squad, FBI Detroit Division, 1989-93; unit chief, applicant testing unit, FBI Head-quarters, 1993-99.
Awards: 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.
Addresses: Office —Federal Bureau of Investigation Headquarters, 935 Pennsylvania Ave., Washington, DC 20035.
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.
Once inside the traditionally white-male FBI, Gibson continued to make history. As she remarked to CBB, “The first office I was transferred to was the Miami Field Office. Upon my arrival at the Miami Division, I was assigned to Fugitive Matters, which was a big responsibility for a first office agent. I was the first black female to ever have been assigned to that office and the second female who had ever been in the Miami Field Office.… It was an honor.” She was often assigned to “old dog” cases. These difficult cases were unsolved and had not been worked on for many years. “I was able to solve a lot of them,” Gibson told CBB, “Oftentimes, two and three arrests per week were credited to me. Most of the time it was better than the arrest records of the male agents assigned to the squad.”
In September of 1981, Gibson was given supervisory responsibilities in the Criminal Investigative Division at the FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. This assignment allowed Gibson to become the first African American female agent to obtain a supervisory level within the FBI. As she told CBB, “After five years in the street, I was sent to FBI Headquarters. I was promoted to supervisor of the Financial Crimes Unit. I worked in that capacity for about seven months before I was requested by the Director to go up to the Press Office and work in Director Webster’s Office.” In March of 1982, she was promoted to a supervisory position in the Press Office for FBI Director William Webster, and appointed as head of Minority Media and Public Relations. “They brought in two male minorities, (an Hispanic agent and a Japanese agent) to complete the three-person Minority Media Unit and the Director’s Press Office,” Gibson recalled to CBB, “We were totally responsible for press inquiries, writing news releases, as well as insuring that the minority media, outlook print, and electronic media was made aware of all press releases of all FBI rules and jurisdiction.”
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 the Albany (GA) Herald wrote that at the time CBS aired the movie, “Gibson was one of only two black female supervisors in the FBI.”
Gibson was also involved in an FBI program which sent agents to college campuses in order to find new recruits. While on the campus of her alma mater, Albany State College, she told Kay Mendheim of the Albany (GA) Sunday Herald, “The long and short of it is that Director Webster realized that proper representation of our country’s constituency was called for. We had no women and very few minorities, and Webster began this program to correct this.” In the article, Mendheim said, “After a meeting with a conference of black college presidents in November of 1981, Webster began a pilot program in which minority FBI agents conducted seminars at their former schools.” The program met with some success. FBI officials told Clarence W. Hunter of the Washington Afro-American that “there has been a steady increase of black agents since the early 1970s, going from 70 black agents in 1972 to 107 black agents in 1975 (and) 270 (black) agents” in 1982. Hunter continued, “the total number of agents in the FBI overall (was) placed at 7,884” in 1982.” The Washington Post Parade Magazine reported in September of 1982 that 21 of those agents were black females.”
Gibson worked as supervisor of the Minority Media Office from April of 1982 until August of 1987. “It became boring after a period of time, so I put in for a Field Desk,” Gibson told CBB, “I worked in the Informant Unit for one year until December of 1988. Then I put in for a Supervisory Desk in the Detroit Division.” “There are several systems used for promotions depending on where you are going,” Gibson continued. “However, most minority agents in the bureau stay at mid-level management. Despite our efforts, we don’t go above that.” In 1988, Gibson was hired as the Fugitive and Bank Robbery Supervisor in the Detroit Division. She attributed a great deal of the credit for her getting the position to Paul Phillips, who was the Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAC) at that time. “He fought hard to get me there,” Gibson remarked to CBB. “He was the only black manager in the FBI who has reached back and pulled other blacks into the management ranks. This in itself caused Mr. Phillips to suffer some backlash to his career.”
When she became supervisor, Gibson told CBB, “The Fugitive and Bank Robbers squad…were very apprehensive, not very sure of themselves, and not very sure of me. They had done their homework in trying to find out all they could about Johnnie Gibson. However, they weren’t very successful. They assumed that I was a pushover.” After three months on the job, they began to respect her authority as supervisor of that squad.
One particular incident earned Gibson a great deal of respect from the squad. After only two weeks in her new position in Detroit, the case agent called Gibson at home late at night and informed her that a top ten fugitive had been located, but that there was no need for her to come to the scene. “He had already summoned a group of agents to go with him over there,” Gibson recalled to CBB, “I advised him that he was absolutely not to make that arrest or go into that home until I was on the scene. I went in that front door with my agents. That is what I felt, as a supervisor, I should have done, and that is what I did. I believe that as a supervisor, you are to ensure that all of your men are protected and taken care of.”
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. “Ican’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.”
Gibson has relied on her strong religious faith to help her through the difficult moments. As she remarked to CBB, “All I had to turn to was the Bible. Had it not been for that, I’m not sure I would be here today.” She also learned a valuable lesson from her mother. “She would always tell you ‘you’ve got to take it to God.’” Gibson recalled to CBB, “but now I know that was the most valuable thing she could have taught me, to pray.”
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.
Albany (GA) Sunday Herald, Vol. LXXXXI, No 91, Section A, p. 2-A; September 15, 1986; p. 2-A; October 26, 1986; p. 36-S.
Ebony, August, 1982, pp. 48, 50; August 1989, p. 146.
Jet, November 10, 1986, p. 60.
Louisville Defender, October 7, 1982, p. B-11.
New York Daily News, October 21, 1986, p. 65.
New York Post, October 1986.
Southwest Georgia News, December 1975.
UPI, October 1986.
USA Today, October 21, 1986.
Washington Afro-American, November 27, 1982, p. 7.
Washington Post Parade Magazine, September 1982.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from an interview with CBB.
"Gibson, Johnnie Mae 1949–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 12, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/gibson-johnnie-mae-1949
"Gibson, Johnnie Mae 1949–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved January 12, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/gibson-johnnie-mae-1949
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