James Weldon Johnson
Biography of James Weldon Johnson
James Weldon Johnson (June 17, 1871 – June 26, 1938) was an American author, politician, diplomat, critic, journalist, poet, anthologist, educator, lawyer, songwriter, and early civil rights activist. Johnson is remembered best for his leadership within the NAACP, as well as for his writing, which includes novels, poems, and collections of folklore. He was also one of the first African-American professors at New York University. Later in life he was a professor of creative literature and writing at Fisk University.
Johnson was born in Jacksonville, Florida, the son of Helen Louise Dillet and James Johnson. His brother was the composer John Rosamond Johnson. Johnson was first educated by his mother (a musician and a public school teacher—the first female, black teacher in Florida at a grammar school) and then at Edwin M. Stanton School. His mother imparted to him her considerable love and knowledge of English literature and the European tradition in music. At the age of 16 he enrolled at Atlanta University, from which he graduated in 1894. In addition to his bachelor's degree, he also completed some graduate coursework there. The achievement of his father, headwaiter at the St. James Hotel, a luxury establishment built when Jacksonville was one of Florida's first winter havens, gave young James the wherewithal and the self-confidence to pursue a professional career. Molded by the classical education for which Atlanta University was best known, Johnson regarded his academic training as a trust given him in the expectation that he would dedicate his resources to black people. Johnson was also a prominent member of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity.
He served in several public capacities over the next 40 years, working in education, the diplomatic corps, civil rights activism, literature, poetry, and music. In 1904 Johnson went on Theodore Roosevelt's presidential campaign. Theodore Roosevelt appointed Johnson as US consul at Puerto Cabello, Venezuela from 1906–1908 and then Nicaragua from 1909–1913.
In 1910, Johnson married Grace Nail while he was a United States Consul in Nicaragua. They had met several years earlier in New York when Johnson was working as a songwriter. A cultured and well-educated New Yorker, Grace Nail Johnson became an accomplished artist in pastels and collaborated with her husband on a screenwriting project.
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James Weldon Johnson Poems
And God stepped out on space, And he looked around and said: I'm lonely-- I'll make me a world.
Go Down, Death
Weep not, weep not, She is not dead; She's resting in the bosom of Jesus. Heart-broken husband--weep no more;
Lift Every Voice And Sing
Lift ev'ry voice and sing, Till earth and heaven ring, Ring with the harmonies of Liberty; Let our rejoicing rise
Listen, Lord: A Prayer
O Lord, we come this morning Knee-bowed and body-bent Before Thy throne of grace. O Lord--this morning--
A Mid-Day Dreamer
I love to sit alone, and dream, And dream, and dream; In fancy's boat to softly glide Along some stream
The hand of Fate cannot be stayed, The course of Fate cannot be steered, By all the gods that man has made, Nor all the devils he has feared,
Look heah! 'Splain to me de reason Why you said to Squire Lee, Der wuz twelve ole chicken thieves
Beauty That Is Never Old
When buffeted and beaten by life's storms, When by the bitter cares of life oppressed, I want no surer haven than your arms,
A Poet To His Baby Son
Tiny bit of humanity, Blessed with your mother’s face, And cursed with your father’s mind.
Father, Father Abraham
(On the Anniversary of Lincoln's Birth) Father, Father Abraham, Today look on us from above;
Before A Painting
I knew not who had wrought with skill so fine What I beheld; nor by what laws of art He had created life and love and heart
I Hear The Stars Still Singing
I hear the stars still singing To the beautiful, silent night, As they speed with noiseless winging
Fifty Years (1863-1913)
O brothers mine, to-day we stand Where half a century sweeps our ken, Since God, through Lincoln's ready hand,
See! There he stands; not brave, but with an air Of sullen stupor. Mark him well! Is he Not more like brute than man? Look in his eye!
And God stepped out on space,
And he looked around and said:
I'll make me a world.
And far as the eye of God could see
Darkness covered everything,
Blacker than a hundred midnights
Down in a cypress swamp.