The United States Capitol Historical Society's Freedom Award

United States Capitol

The U.S. Capitol Historical Society is honored to present its 2023 Freedom Award to Cheryl L. Johnson to recognize her exceptional leadership and pivotal role in preserving and commitment to upholding the American democratic process. Specifically, she played a significant part in organizing the certification of the 2020 Presidential Election and maintaining order while presiding over the U.S. House of Representatives during the weeklong Speaker vote series in January 2023.

Clerk Cheryl Johnson was appointed by Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), making her one of the rare House Clerks in American history to be appointed by both Democratic and Republican Speakers. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2024 | 4:00 p.m. ET

Photos (c) Bruce Guthrie

About Cheryl L. Johnson

Cheryl L. Johnson presided over the U.S. House of Representatives during the weeklong Speaker vote series in January 2023 as the 36th Clerk of the House. On January 3, 2021, Johnson was sworn in as Clerk of the House for the 117th Congress by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. At 1:00 pm ET on January 6, 2021, Members of Congress gathered for a joint session to count the votes of the Electoral College. Soon thereafter, rioters clashed with law enforcement outside the Capitol and breached the building. By 4:00 pm ET, Congressional leaders were evacuated from the Capitol. But by the early hours of January 7, Congress was able to reconvene and—after Clerk Johnson organized Members—finished its work and that of our democracy.

During the week of January 3, 2023, the 118th Congress held a vote to determine its next Speaker of the House. When no candidate received a majority on the first ballot, it marked the first time an extra ballot would be necessary since 1923. During the ensuing four days and 15 tumultuous ballots, Clerk Johnson presided over the House, maintaining order while Congress selected the officer second in our presidential line of succession. It marked the longest House Speaker race since 1860, before the Civil War.

For her character, professionalism, and impartiality, Speaker McCarthy reappointed Johnson for the 118th Congress on January 7, 2023. In so being, she became a rarity in American history: a House Clerk appointed by both Democratic and Republican Speakers.

Before becoming Clerk, Ms. Johnson worked for nearly twenty years in the House, followed by ten years at the Smithsonian Institution. Most recently, Ms. Johnson served as Director of the Smithsonian’s Office of Government Relations. In that role, she worked with Smithsonian leadership and the Board of Regents to build and maintain strong relationships with Congress, specifically with the congressional committees with jurisdiction over Smithsonian programs and appropriations. She also developed strategic legislative objectives, policies, and funding opportunities for the Smithsonian. 

In her time on Capitol Hill, Ms. Johnson was the Chief Education and Investigative Counsel for the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, where she served as a principal policy advisor and spokesperson for the Committee. Ms. Johnson also served as Director and Counsel for the Committee on House Administration’s Subcommittee on Libraries and Memorials. In this capacity, she worked with the Subcommittee chair to exercise oversight and legislative responsibility over the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian. 

Ms. Johnson earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication from the University of Iowa and her law degree from Howard University. She is also a graduate of the senior management program at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. Born in New Orleans, she lives with her husband in Chevy Chase, Maryland. 

The Freedom Award

The Freedom Award was established by the U.S. Capitol Historical Society to celebrate individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions towards a better understanding and appreciation of freedom, as symbolized by the U.S. Capitol and Congress. The award was first presented on September 17, 1993, marking the 200th anniversary of the laying of the U.S. Capitol cornerstone by George Washington in 1793. Named after the statue atop the Capitol Dome, the Freedom Award is presented annually as a tribute to the recipients’ unwavering commitment to freedom, democracy, and representative government.

Past Freedom Award Recipients

Photos (c) Bruce Guthrie

About Us

Founded in 1962, the U.S. Capitol Historical Society has proudly worked to preserve and share the history of the Capitol, the Congress, and the people who work therein. As a nonpartisan, educational 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, the Society was chartered by Congress in 1978, in part, “to foster and increase an informed patriotism.” In service of this mission, the Society conducts historical tours of the Capitol Building, hosts both virtual and in-person public history programming, publishes scholarly research in various aspects of Capitol History, coordinates a digital civics education resource hub for teachers, manages a renowned civics education field trip program for Title I D.C. public school students, and commissions works of fine art for the Capitol collections.