Happy Birthday, James Weldon Johnson!
Happy Birthday, James Weldon Johnson!!
On June 17, 1871, right here in Jacksonville, Florida, James Weldon Johnson was born. He was the son of Helen Louise Dillet, a native of Nassau, Bahamas, and James Johnson. His maternal great-grandmother, Hester Argo, had escaped from Saint-Domingue (today Haiti) during the revolutionary upheaval in 1802, along with her three young children, including James’s grandfather Stephen Dillet.
Johnson was an American writer and civil rights activist. He was married to civil rights activist Grace Nail Johnson. He was a leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), where he started working in 1917. In 1920, he was the first African American to be chosen as executive secretary of the organization, effectively the operating officer. He served in that position from 1920 to 1930. Johnson established his reputation as a writer and was known during the Harlem Renaissance for his poems, novel, and anthologies collecting both poems and spirituals of black culture. He wrote the lyrics for “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, which later became known as the Negro National Anthem, the music being written by his younger brother, composer John Rosamond Johnson.
Johnson was appointed under President Theodore Roosevelt as U.S. consul in Venezuela and Nicaragua for most of the period from 1906 to 1913. In 1934, he was the first African American professor to be hired at New York University. Later in life, he was a professor of creative literature and writing at Fisk University, a historically black university.
Johnson died in 1938 while vacationing in Wiscasset, Maine, when the car his wife was driving was hit by a train. His funeral in Harlem was attended by more than 2,000 people. Johnson’s ashes are interred at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.