James Weldon Johnson

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Johnson, James Weldon,

1871–1938, American author, b. Jacksonville, Fla., educated at Atlanta Univ. (B.A., 1894) and at Columbia. Johnson was the first African American to be admitted to the Florida bar and later was American consul (1906–12), first in Venezuela and then in Nicaragua. In 1930 he became a professor at Fisk Univ., and in 1934 a visiting professor at New York Univ. He helped found and was secretary (1916–30) of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. His novel Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man (1912), published anonymously, caused a great stir and was republished under his name in 1927. Among his other works are the words to Lift Every Voice and Sing (1900, repr. 1993), which has been called the African-American national anthem, God's Trombones (1927), African-American sermons in verse, and Black Manhattan (1930). He wrote songs with his brother, John Rosamond JohnsonJohnson, John Rosamond,
1873–1954, American composer and singer, b. Jacksonville, Fla. After a career in music halls and light opera in England and on the Continent, Johnson toured Europe and the United States giving programs of spirituals.
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Bibliography

See his autobiography, Along This Way (1933, repr. 1973); study by E. Levy (1973).

Johnson, James Weldon

 

Born June 17, 1871, in Jacksonville; died June 26, 1938, in Maine. American Negro writer, cultural historian, and public figure.

Johnson, a teacher, lawyer, and professor of literature at Fisk and New York universities, served as the United States consul to Venezuela and Nicaragua and was an organizer of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He is the author of songs and musical comedies (with his composer brother), the collection of verses Fifty Years and Other Poems (1917), the novel Autobiography of an Excoloured Man (1912), and books on the history of Negro culture (for example, Black Manhattan, 1930). Johnson also compiled anthologies of Negro poetry and folklore. In the 1920’s he came forth as a theoretician of the so-called Negro Renaissance, issuing an appeal to Negroes to create artistic works free of racial or national character.

WORKS

The Book of American Negro Poetry. New York, 1922.
The Book of American Negro Spirituals. New York, 1925.
Along This Way. New York, 1933.
Saint Peter Relates an Incident: Selected Poems. New York, 1935.

REFERENCE

Bekker, M. I. Progressivnaia negritianskaia literatura SSHA. Leningrad, 1957.

Johnson, James Weldon

(1871–1938) lawyer, lyricist, writer, social activist; born in Jacksonville, Fla. After graduating from college, he organized a system of secondary education for African-Americans in Jacksonville. The first African-American to be admitted to the Florida bar through examination in a state court (1897), he moved to New York City (1901) to pursue his love of music and theater. He, his brother J. Rosamond Johnson, and Bob Cole formed a song-and-dance act that was famous in America and Europe for several years. He collaborated with his brother as a lyricist on some 200 songs, including "Under the Bamboo Tree" and "The Congo Love Song"; they also wrote "Lift Every Voice and Sing," long considered the "black national anthem." Black Republicans in New York enlisted his services in Theodore Roosevelt's presidential reelection campaign (1904); in return he was appointed a consul in Venezuela (1906) and Nicaragua (1909), where he helped maintain peace and order during the revolution of 1912. He resigned from the consular service after the Democratic Senate rejected him as consul to the Azores. Turning to writing, he anonymously published a novel, Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912), and a volume of poetry, and he became editor of the New York Age, the oldest black newspaper in America. During the 1920s he was one of the leading contributors to and interpreters of the so-called Harlem Renaissance and he published anthologies of African-American poetry and spirituals, critical essays, and his own works such as God's Trombones (1927), "Negro folk sermons" in verse. Meanwhile, he had become field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) (1916). He greatly expanded NAACP membership, investigated lynchings, and championed black causes nationally. Named NAACP executive (1921), he lobbied for passage of the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill and helped awaken Americans to the enormity of lynching. He resigned from the NAACP (1930) after seeing the U.S. Supreme Court condemn white primary laws. Returning to his literary career, he wrote and edited poetry, documented black life in America, and wrote his autobiography, Along This Way (1933). He also taught at Fisk University and New York University. Although his reputation would be eclipsed by more outspoken African-Americans, he had provided a role model for several generations by the sheer vitality and diversity of his achievements.