Sunday, April 19, 2020


THE LIFE AND WORKS OF JAMES WELDON JOHNSON James Weldon Johnson was a writer, diplomat, professor, and editor,who also described himself as a man of letters and a civil rights leader. Even though, he is no longer living, James Weldon Johnson has left much abouthis contributions to African American literature. Johnson was born June 17,1871 in Jacksonville, Florida to James and Helen Louise (Dallied) Johnson. Johnson's father, James Johnson, was born a freeman and was of mixed ancestry. He was a headwaiter in St. James Hotel. Mr. Johnson taughthis son how to speak Spanish as a young boy. Johnson's mother, Helen Johnson, was born a free woman in the West Indies. Mrs. Helen was awoman of French and Black ancestry. She was the first black American to teach in the state of Florida. Mrs. Helen also taught her son to play the guitar(Otfinoski 22). Johnson was born the second of three children: John Rosamond, also known as "Rozy," and a sister which died shortly after birth (Logan and Winston, " James Weldon Johnson" 353). He was originally named Johnson "James William Johnson," by his parents, but in 1913, he changed his middle name to Weldon (Kranz, "James Weldon Johnson" 78). Sept 1 Johnson was a well-educated man of his time. During his first few years of school he attended, Stanton, which offered blacks an education up to the eight grade. Stanton was one of the best black schools in Johnson's hometown. He graduated from Stanton at the age of 16 and went on to attend a secondary school and college at Atlanta University. Johnson attended Atlanta University in Georgia because there were no school's beyond grammar school for blacks in Jacksonville, Florida and the university ran a special high school program for blacks (23,28). Johnson furthered his education at the university believing that it would educate him more in his interest of black people (Adams 155). In 1894, Johnson graduated with honors from Atlanta University receiving his bachelor's degree. He also gave the graduation speech (Kanzs 77-79). During Johnson's lifetime he had many careers helping others and writing. Johnson was a poet, songwriter, editor, civil rights leader, lawyer, educator, and diplomat (Metzger et. al. 303). Russell L. Adams, author of Great Negroes Past and Present, stated, "Johnson had a talent for persuading people of differing ideological agendas to work together for a common goal. . . " (Adams 77-79). Sept 2 Paying his own way through school, Johnson worked in a lathe factory during college and in the summer at a rural school teaching in Georgia, which paid a nickel per student, to help pay his way through college (Otfinoski 23). When Johnson graduated from Atlanta University in 1894, he turned down a medical scholarship at Harvard to accept a job as principal at the All- Black Stanton school in Jacksonville, Florida. While principal at Stanton, Johnson visited local white schools to compare the levels of education being taught because he felt that all black children in his hometown should have the same opportunity of being taught the same levels of education. So, in doing that he started secretly teaching freshman classes without the supervisor's permission. After Johnson told his supervisor about teaching freshman classes, he was so impressed that he decided to expand Stanton to a four-year high school for blacks (23). By 1901 Johnson was financially and mentally secure enough from his song royalties he decided it was time to resign as principal in Jacksonville and devote all of his time to writing. So, he moved to New York City with his brother, Rosamond. While in New York City Johnson met a young person by the name of Grace Nail, the daughter of a real estate broker, at a dance (Tolbert- Sept 3 Rouchaleau 55). On February 3, 1910, Grace Nail became the wife of James Weldon Johnson. Also while living in New York, he studied drama and literature at Columbia University and graduated in 1905 (Otfinoski 25). Johnson's mother encouragement in reading, drawing, and listening to music really paid off (Metzger et. Al. 304). He started writing in a black dialect, influenced by Paul Dunbar, and standard english on racial issues that he was witnessing around him (Kranz 78). Johnson had many of his poems published in the Century and the Independent magazines. Johnson's first poem, Since You Went Away, was published in the Century magazine and set to music by his brother to become a popular song. Johnson and his brother also wrote the song, Lift Every Voice and Sing, to celebrate Lincoln's birthday,

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