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 James Weldon Johnson

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Brief Bio

James Weldon Johnson was born on June 17, 1871 in Jacksonville, Fla. He is best known as being a poet, composer, diplomat, and anthologist of black culture.

James was trained in music and other subjects by his mother, a schoolteacher. Johnson graduated from Atlanta University with A.B. in 1894. He later obtained a M.A. in 1904 while studying at Columbia. For several years he was principal of the black high school in Jacksonville, Fla. He read law at the same time, and was admitted to the Florida bar in 1897, and began practicing there. During this period, he and his brother, John Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954), a composer, began writing songs. In 1901 the two went to New York, where they wrote some 200 songs for the Broadway musical stage.

In 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him U.S. consul to Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, and in 1909 he became consul in Corinto, Nicaragua, where he served until 1914. He later taught at Fisk University. Meanwhile, he began writing a novel, Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man (published anonymously, 1912), which attracted little attention until it was reissued under his own name in 1927. From 1916 Johnson was a leader in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, (NAACP). It was during this time period when James became a distinguished member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. joining fellow members of the time like George Washington Carver.

One of his most famous poems was "Lift Every Voice and Sing." His brother later added music to the poem. It is considered to be the unofficial "Negro National Anthem". It was a bold piece of work that spoke of the struggle of the African American in America and his optimistic hope for a better future.

Some of his other works include Fifty Years and Other Poems (1917) which was followed by his pioneering anthology Book of American Negro Poetry (1922) and books of American Negro Spirituals (1925, 1926), collaborations with his brother. His best-known work, God's Trombones (1927), a group of black dialect sermons in verse, includes "The Creation" and "Go Down Death." Johnson's introductions to his anthologies contain some of the most perceptive assessments ever made of black contributions to American culture. Along This Way (1933) is an autobiography.

James Weldon Johnson would eventually pass away on June 26, 1938, in Wiscasset, Maine.

Poems - 10 in all


James Weldon Johnson

TO AMERICA
Mother Night
The Temptress
Go Down, Death
The White Witch
Prayer at Sunrise
THE BLACK MAMMY
Lift Every Voice and Sing
The Word of an Engineer
O Black and Unknown Bards


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