Johnson and Dubois

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Johnson and Dubois

Many parallels can be drawn between the works of W.E.B. DuBois and those of James Weldon Johnson. Johnson was greatly influenced by many concepts created by DuBois, especially those presented in DuBois's classic work The Souls of Black Folk. Johnson was so impressed with DuBois and his ideas that he sought him out in 1904 at Atlanta University. The two men developed a strong friendship and later worked for years together in the NAACP, Johnson's diplomatic temperment often balancing DuBois's more volitile one.*

As Johnson developed his ideas about literature, he adopted the use of "double consciousness" the theme presented by DuBois in Souls of Black Folk. This theme was used significantly in Johnson's Autobiography. Along with this theme he came to embrace the idea of "racial distinctiveness" theorized by DuBois. DuBois argues in his book that spiritual contributions are what African-Americans bring to white American culture.

Johnson's ideas about black distinctiveness within the frame of spirituality and creativity was strongly expressed in his poem "O Black and Unknown Bards." This poems plays on the themes of protest with a celebration of black distinctiveness and creativity in regards to slave spirituals. Johnson argues in the poem that the slave spirituals provide proof of the legitimacy of black literary independence, another theme Johnson adopted from DuBois.

Another poem by Johnson which reflects ideas from DuBois is "The White Witch" In this poem, Johnson warns of the seductive charms of "the white witch" and is a militant call for African- Americans to preserve their heritage and distinctiveness. The images of white society brought forth by Johnson was very similar to those presented in DuBois's Souls, where he also calls out to African-Americans not to be tempted and corrupted by white materialism.

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*Kenneth M. Price and Lawrence J. Oliver, "Introduction," in Critical Essay on James Weldon Johnson, ed. Kenneth M. Price and Lawrence J. Oliver (New York: G.K. Hall & Co, 1997) p. 6.


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