James Weldon Johnson

James Weldon Johnson

[jon-suhn; for 3 also Sw. yoon-sawn]
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).

(born June 17, 1871, Jacksonville, Fla., U.S.—died June 26, 1938, Wiscasset, Maine) U.S. writer. He practiced law in Florida before moving with his brother, the composer J. Rosamond Johnson (1873–1954), to New York; there the two collaborated on some 200 songs for the Broadway stage. Johnson held diplomatic posts in Venezuela and Nicaragua and served as executive secretary of the NAACP (1920–30). From 1930 he taught at Fisk University. His writings include the novel Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912), Fifty Years and Other Poems (1917), and his best-known work, God's Trombones (1927), a group of dialect sermons in verse. The brothers collaborated on the pioneering anthologies Book of American Negro Poetry (1922) and American Negro Spirituals (1925, 1926). Their most famous original song, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” became an anthem of the civil rights movement.

Learn more about Johnson, James Weldon with a free trial on Britannica.com.

James Weldon Johnson (June 17, 1871June 26, 1938) was an American author, politician, diplomat, critic, journalist, poet, anthologist, educator, lawyer, songwriter, early civil rights activist, and prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance. Johnson is best remembered for his writing, which includes novels, poems, and collections of folklore. He was also one of the first African-American professors at New York University. Later in life he was a professor of creative literature and writing at Fisk University.

Life

Johnson was born in Jacksonville, Florida, the son of Helen Louise Dillet and James Johnson. Johnson was first educated by his mother (a musician and a public school teacher - the first female, black teacher in Florida at a grammar school) and then at Edwin M. Stanton School. At the age of 16 he enrolled at Atlanta University, from which he graduated in 1894. In addition to his bachelor's degree, he also completed some graduate coursework there.

He served in several public capacities over the next 35 years, working in education, the diplomatic corps, civil rights activism, literature, poetry, and music. In 1904 Johnson went on Theodore Roosevelt's presidential Campaign. In 1907 Theodore Roosevelt appointed Johnson as U.S. consul at Puerto Cabello, Venezuela from 1906-1908 and then Nicaragua from 1909-1913. In 1910 Johnson married Grace Nail, the daughter of a prosperous real estate developer from New York.In 1913 he changed his name officially from James William Johnson to James Weldon Johnson. He became a member of Sigma Pi Phi and Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. at some point after its founding in 1914.

Today, James Weldon Johnson College Preparatory Middle School is named after him. In 1916, Johnson joined the staff of the NAACP. In 1920, he became general secretary of the NAACP.

Education and Law

After graduation he returned to Stanton, a school for African American students in Jacksonville, until 1906, where, at the young age of 23, he became principal. Johnson improved education by adding the ninth and tenth grades. In 1897, Johnson was the first African American admitted to the Florida Bar Exam since Reconstruction. In the 1930s Johnson became a Professor of Creative Literature and Writing at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee where he lectured not only on literature but also on a wide range of issues to do with the life and civil rights of black American.

Music

In 1899, Johnson moved to New York City with his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson to work in musical theater. Along with his brother, he produced such hits as "Tell Me, Dusky Maiden" and "Nobody's Looking but the Owl and the Moon". Johnson composed the lyrics of "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing," originally written for a celebration of Lincoln's birthday at Stanton School. This song would later become to be known - and adopted as such by the NAACP - as the Negro National Anthem. The song was entered into the Congressional Record as the official African American National Hymn following the success of a 1990 rendition by singer Melba Moore and a bevy of other recording artists. After successes with their songwriting and music the brothers worked at Broadway and collaborated with producer and director Bob Cole. Johnson also composed the opera Tolosa with his brother J. Rosamond Johnson which satirizes the U.S. annexation of the Pacific islands.

Diplomacy

In 1906 Johnson was appointed US consul of Puerto Cabello, Venezuela. In 1909, he transferred to be the US consul of Corinto, Nicaragua. During his work in the foreign service, Johnson became a published poet, with work printed in the magazine The Century Magazine and in The Independent.

Literature and Anthology

During his six-year stay in South America he completed his most famous book The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man which was published anonymously in 1912. It was only in 1927 that Johnson admitted his authorship - stressing that it was not a work of autobiography but mostly fictional. Other works include The Book of American Negro Spirituals (1925), Black Manhattan (1930), his exploration of the contribution of African-Americans to the cultural scene of New York, and Negro Americans, What Now? (1934), a book calling for civil rights for African Americans. Johnson was also an accomplished anthologist. Johnson's anthologies provided inspiration, encouragement, and recognition to the new generation of artists who would create the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s.

Poetry

The poetry of Johnson, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, and the works of people like W.E.B Dubois ignited the Harlem Renaissance. In 1922, he edited The Book of American Negro Poetry, which the Academy of American Poets calls "a major contribution to the history of African-American literature." One of the works for which he is best remembered today, God's Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse, was published in 1927 and celebrates the tradition of the folk preacher. In 1917, Johnson published 50 Years and Other Poems.

Activism

While serving the NAACP from 1920 through 1931 Johnson started as an organizer and eventually became the first black male secretary in the organization's history. Throughout the 1920s he was one of the major inspirations and promoters of the Harlem Renaissance trying to refute condescending white criticism and helping young black authors to get published. While serving in the NAACP Johnson was involved in sparking the drive behind the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill of 1921.

Shortly before his death, Johnson supported efforts by Ignatz Waghalter, a Polish-Jewish composer who had escaped the Nazis, to establish a classical orchestra of African-American musicians. According to musical historian James Nathan Jones, the formation of the "American Negro Orchestra" (as it was then known) represented for Johnson "the fulfillment of a dream he had had for thirty years."

James Weldon Johnson died in 1938 while on vacation in Wiscasset, Maine, when the car he was driving was hit by a train. His funeral in Harlem was attended by more than 2000 people.

Legacy and honors

Selected works

Poetry

Other works and collections

Notes

Other references

  • James Weldon Johnson: Writings (William L. Andrews, editor) (The Library of America), 2004) ISBN 978-1-93108252-5.
  • Yenser, Thomas (editor), Who's Who in Colored America: A Biographical Dictionary of Notable Living Persons of African Descent in America, Brooklyn, New York, 1930-1931-1932 (Third Edition)
  • The Oxford Companion to African American Literature, edited by William L. Andrews, Frances Smith Foster, Trudier Harris, New York, Oxford, 1997, p. 404 ff.

See also

External links

Search another word or see James Weldon Johnsonon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2014 Dictionary.com, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature
FAVORITES
RECENT

;