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.

Johnsonís 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. Johnsonís 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 Johnsonís
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
schoolís 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 bachelorís degree. He also gave the graduation speech (Kanzs

77-79).

During Johnsonís 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 supervisorís
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).

Johnsonís 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. Johnsonís 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 Lincolnís birthday, in 1900s. Later, it became the

National Anthem of