James Weldon Johnson

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Johnson, James Weldon

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 Johnson.


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

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

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.


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.


Bekker, M. I. Progressivnaia negritianskaia literatura SSHA. Leningrad, 1957.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

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.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
References in periodicals archive ?
Louis , and James Weldon Johnson marched side by side.
Her writing was so good that she received compliments from poets such as Langston Hughes and James Weldon Johnson. Gwendolyn kept working for civil rights, and her poems frequently focused on racism, women's issues, and economic justice.
While sport was generally ignored by the Harlem Renaissance, Daniel Anderson maintains that James Weldon Johnson was an exception.
Blacks had been primed for King's "I Have a Dream" by James Weldon Johnson's "Lift Every Voice and Sing." In fact, they had been singing it for most of their lives: as students in predominantly segregated schools and as adults at civil rights meetings and in black civic clubs.
Sometimes referred to as "The Negro National Hymn" or "The African American National Anthem," it was written in 1899 as a poem by James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938), distinguished author, poet, educator, politician, and early civil rights activist, who was for many years a leader in the NAACP and a promoter of the Harlem Renaissance.
All of these efforts helped in the "imperative domestication of modernism," shifting it from a revolutionary state of mind to canonical status, now embodied in archives like the Poetry Collection at the University of Buffalo and the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection of Negro Arts and Letters at Yale.
The second features James Weldon Johnson, Fenton Johnson, and William Stanley Braithwaite, whose early literary careers coincide with the extension of Jim Crow segregation in northern cities in the 1900s and 1910s.
Steward, Ana Julia Cooper, James Weldon Johnson, Langston Hughes and Zora Neal Hurston, stakes claims about the capacity of black people for liberty, citizenship, and self-determination.
But after working his way out of the James Weldon Johnson Project in East Harlem, New York, Emir decided the best place to open that store was right in the neighborhood he had come from.
Richard Hardack (Independent Scholar), "Never the Twain Shall Meet: Travel and Double-Consciousness in the Works of Mark Twain and James Weldon Johnson"
For example, James Weldon Johnson's oral examination in 1897 lasted two grueling hours.
The 'New Negro' in the Old World: Culture and Performance in James Weldon Johnson, Jessie Fauset, and Nella Larsen.