James Weldon Johnson
Born in 1871 in Jacksonville, Florida, James Weldon Johnson was
encouraged to study English literature and the European musical tradition. He
attended Atlanta University with the intention that the education he received
there would be used to further the interests of the black people. After
graduation, he took a job as a high school principal in Jacksonville.
In 1900, he wrote the song "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" on the
occasion of Lincoln's birthday; the song which became immensely popular in the
black community and became known as the "Negro National Anthem."
Johnson moved to New York in 1901 to collaborate with his brother Rosamond, a
composer, and attained some success as a songwriter for Broadway, but decided
to take a job as U.S. Consul to Venezuela in 1906. While employed by the
diplomatic corps, Johnson had poems published in the Century
Magazine and The Independent.
In 1912, Johnson published The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man
under a pseudonym, the story of a musician who rejects his black roots for a
life of material comfort in the white world. The novel explores the issue of
racial identity in the twentieth century, a common theme in the writing of the
He had a talent for persuading people of differing ideological agendas to
work together for a common goal, and in 1920 he became the national organizer
for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He
edited The Book of American Negro Poetry (1922), a major contribution to
the history of African-American literature. His book of poetry God's
Trombones (1927) was influenced by his impressions of the rural South,
drawn from a trip he took to Georgia while a freshman in college. It was this
trip that ignited his interest in the African-American folk tradition.
James Weldon Johnson died in 1938.
A Selected Bibliography
Fifty Years and Other Poems (1917)
God's Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse (1927)
Saint Peter Relates an Incident (1935)
Selected Poems (1936)
Self-Determining Haiti (1920)
The Selected Writings of James Weldon Johnson (1995)
Along This Way (1934)
Black Manhattan (1930)
Negro Americans, What Now? (1934)
The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912)