James Weldon Johnson

James Weldon Johnson

Length: 1226 words (3.5 double-spaced pages)

Rating: Excellent

Open Document

Essay Preview

More ↓
James Weldon Johnson


The author of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" (often called "the Negro National Anthem"), James Weldon Johnson had a long career as a creative writer, black leader, teacher, lawyer, diplomat, and executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Through his writing he protested racial injustice, encouraged black achievement, and added immeasurably to the wealth of American literary art.
A native of Jacksonville, Florida, Johnson attended Atlanta University through graduate school. In 1901 he became the first African American admitted to the Florida Bar, but he did not re-main in Florida very long. Forming a creative partnership with his younger brother Rosamond, a writer of popular music, he began to write lyrics. They moved to New York and found fame as the ragtime songwriting team of Cole and Johnson Brothers.
and founded a short-lived newspaper called The Daily American. For ten years, he wrote editorials for the New York Age, a prominent African-American newspaper. He was one of the founders and a charter member of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, and he became field secretary for the NAACP in 1916. The song was originally written for schoolchildren at an Abraham Lincoln birthday celebration in 1900. The Creation
James Weldon Johnson James E. Ransome (Illustrator) Format: Hardcover, 1st ed., 32pp.
ISBN: 0823410692
Publisher: Holiday House, Inc.
Pub. Date: March 1995
Edition Desc: 1st ed

Songwriter, poet, novelist, journalist, critic, and autobiographer. James Weldon Johnson, much like his contemporary W. E. B. Du Bois, was a man who bridged several historical and literary trends. Born in 1871, during the optimism of the Reconstruction period, in Jacksonville, Florida, Johnson was imbued with an eclectic set of talents. Over the course of his sixty-seven years, Johnson was the first African American admitted to the Florida bar since the end of Reconstruction; the co-composer (with his brother John Rosamond) of 'Lift Every Voice and Sing,' the song that would later become known as the Negro National Anthem; field secretary in the NAACP; journalist; publisher; diplomat; educator; translator; librettist; anthologist; and English professor; in addition to being a well-known poet and novelist and one of the prime movers of the Harlem Renaissance.
As the first son of James Johnson and the former Helen Louise Dillet, James Weldon inherited his forebears' combination of industrious energy and public-mindedness, as demonstrated by his maternal grandfathers long life in public service in the Bahamas, where he served in the House of Assembly for thirty years.

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"James Weldon Johnson." 123HelpMe.com. 14 Dec 2019
    <https://www.123helpme.com/view.asp?id=127879>.

Need Writing Help?

Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.

Check your paper »

The American Dream By James Weldon Johnson Essay

- A poet once said, “Unity is strength... when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved” (Mattie Stepanek). The American dream is built on a foundation of unity, which is exemplified in the poem by James Weldon Johnson, Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing. In this poem, Johnson thematically illustrates what the American Dream is about. The overall background in this poem eludes the history of slavery and how the contemporary society has change the present of how humans live today....   [tags: Slavery, Slavery in the United States]

Research Papers
711 words (2 pages)

Essay on The Autobiography Of An Former Coloured Man By James Weldon Johnson

- James Weldon Johnson 's book, The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man, describes the journey throughout the early and midlife of a man who bore both Negro and white blood.  He 's ethnicity wise African American but is able to "pass" in American Society as white due to his fair skin.  This book examines the question of race and provides insight on what it really meant to fake an identity as a man in a culture that recognized nothing but color. In The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man, the protagonist, who is also the narrator, is never named....   [tags: Black people, African American, Race, White people]

Research Papers
1666 words (4.8 pages)

Art Vs. Trade By James Weldon Johnson Essay example

- In “Art vs. Trade” by James Weldon Johnson, two entities in a society are examined. These two characters have a challenging relationship with each other due to their respective roles within society. However, they share similar behaviors and patterns. To understand what causes the interactions between these two entities and how each are affected by it, this poem must be analyzed with the Marxist Theory. The second stanza of “Art vs. Trade” introduces the powerful people in the society of the text....   [tags: Social class, Marxism, Working class, Socialism]

Research Papers
1264 words (3.6 pages)

James Weldon Johnson Essay

- James Weldon Johnson The author of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" (often called "the Negro National Anthem"), James Weldon Johnson had a long career as a creative writer, black leader, teacher, lawyer, diplomat, and executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Through his writing he protested racial injustice, encouraged black achievement, and added immeasurably to the wealth of American literary art. A native of Jacksonville, Florida, Johnson attended Atlanta University through graduate school....   [tags: Papers]

Free Essays
1226 words (3.5 pages)

Essay on James Weldon Johnson

- James Weldon Johnson James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938), was a highly talented and celebrated African American writer. He was a poet, songwriter, novelist, literary critic, and essayist. Along with his wide-ranging literary accomplishments, Johnson also served as a school principal, professor of literature at Fisk University, attorney, a diplomatic consul for the United States in Venezuelaand Nicaragua, and secretary for the NAACP from 1920-1930. He is considered one of the founders of the Harlem Renaissance and the first "modern" African American....   [tags: Essays Papers]

Research Papers
669 words (1.9 pages)

"Passing" in James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

- In 1912, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man was anonymously published by James Weldon Johnson. It is the narrative of a light-skinned man wedged between two racial categories; the offspring of a white father and a black mother, The Ex-Colored man is visibly white but legally classified as black. Wedged between these two racial categories, the man chooses to “pass” to the white society. In Passing: When People Can’t Be Who They Are, Brooke Kroeger describes “passing” as an act when “people effectively present themselves as other than who they understand themselves to be” (Kroeger 7)....   [tags: The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man]

Research Papers
1106 words (3.2 pages)

On James Weldon Johnson’s “The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man” Essay

- When the narrator of Johnson’s novel falls in love, it is to music he turns to express that emotion to his intended one (149). She in turn answered in kind, letting the notes and tempo combine with her words in expression of her love returned to him. The relevance of music in Johnson’s novel should not be undercut by the other issues within the confines of his text. Exploring the meaning of this inclusion will be to explore the theme of music itself. It will encompass the examination of the style of music, the generation in which the story takes place along with the issues of race....   [tags: Literary Analysis ]

Research Papers
2061 words (5.9 pages)

Analysis Of James Weldon Johnson 's ' An Former Colored Man ' By F. Scott Fitzgerald

- AMBIVALENTLY COLORED “Sometimes it seems to me that I have never really been a Negro, that I have been only a privileged spectator of their inner life; at other times I feel that I have been a coward, a deserter, and I am possessed by a strange longing for my mother 's people.” Thus encapsulates the painful dilemma of being of mixed race in America of James Weldon Johnson in his Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. From thinking of himself as white because of the lightness of his skin, to finding that in fact he was colored, and the constant struggle to perhaps deny it, to the peculiar pride that sometimes reared its head and caused him to embrace his Negro blood, his narrative revealed his i...   [tags: Black people, African American, Negro]

Research Papers
1303 words (3.7 pages)

Essay on Johnson and Dubois

- 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....   [tags: Comparative, Literary Analysis, African American L]

Free Essays
323 words (0.9 pages)

Organizational Technology Plan : Johnson and Johnson Essay

- Organizational Technology Plan : Johnson and Johnson Introduction Johnson and Johnson, the world's most comprehensive and broadly based manufacturer of health care products is on the forefront of innovation in the health care supplier industry, consumer services, pharmaceutical, medical devices and diagnostics markets. Johnson and Johnson employs over a hundred thousand resources worldwide in over 54 countries. Johnson and Johnson has created innovate new solutions to age-old problems along with being providing a means by which new health-related issues can be prevented....   [tags: Business Management Analysis ]

Research Papers
1682 words (4.8 pages)

James, Sr., spent many years as the headwaiter of the St. James Hotel in Jacksonville, Florida, where he had moved the family after his sponge fishing and dray businesses were ruined by a hurricane that hit the Bahamas in 1866. James, Jr., was born and educated in Jacksonville, first by his mother, who taught for many years in the public schools, and later by James C. Walter, the well-educated but stern principal of the Stanton School. Graduating at the age of sixteen, Johnson enrolled in Atlanta University, from which be graduated in 1894. After graduation, Johnson, though only twenty-three, returned to the Stanton School to become its principal.
In 1895, Johnson founded the Daily American, a newspaper devoted to reporting on issues pertinent to the black community. Though the paper only lasted a year (with Johnson doing most of the work himself for eight of those months) before it succumbed to financial hardship, it addressed racial injustice and, in keeping with Johnson's upbringing, asserted a self-help philosophy that echoed Booker T. Washington. Of the demise of the paper he wrote in his autobiography, Along This Way, "The failure of the Daily American was my first taste of defeat in public life. . . ." However the effort was not a total failure, for both Washington and his main rival, W. E. B. Du Bois, became aware of Johnson through his journalistic efforts, leading to opportunities in later years.
Turning to the study of law, Johnson studied with a young, white lawyer named Thomas A. Ledwith. But despite the fact that he built up a successful law practice in Jacksonville, Johnson soon tired of the law (his practice had been conducted concurrently with his duties as principal of the Stanton School). When his brother returned to Jacksonville after graduating from the New England Conservatory of Music in 1897, James's poems provided the lyrics for Rosamond's early songs. By the end of the decade, both brothers were in New York, providing compositions to Broadway musicals. There they met Bob Cole, whom Johnson described as a man of such immense talent that he could "write a play, stage it, and play a part."
The brothers split their time between Jacksonville and New York for a number of years before settling in New York for good. However, their greatest composition, the one for which they are best known, was written for a Stanton School celebration of Lincoln's birthday. "Lift Every Voice and Sing" was a song that, as Johnson put it, the brothers let pass out of [their] minds," after it had been published.
But the song’s importance grew from the students, who remembered it and taught it to other students throughout the South, until some twenty years later it was adopted by the NAACP as the "Negro National Hymn."
It was this kind of creativity under duress, coupled with his connections in the political sphere, that characterized Johnson's life as an artist and activist. Indeed, between the years 1914 and 1931, his desire to explore the limits of both worlds led him to seek a more thorough synthesis of his public and artistic sensibilities. The study of literature, which Johnson began around 1904 under the tutelage of the critic and novelist Brander Matthews, who was then teaching at Columbia University, caused Johnson to withdraw from the Cole/Johnson partnership to pursue a life as a writer. However, this creative impulse coincided with his decision in 1906 to serve as United States consul to Venezuela, a post that Washington's political connections with the Roosevelt administration helped to secure.
During the three years he held this post, Johnson completed his only novel, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, which he published anonymously in 1912. Though many read the novel as a sociological document, its true value lies in the manner in which it recasts the "tragic mulatto" story within the context of Du Bois's metaphor of the veil. The novel sparked renewed interest when Johnson announced in 1927 that he had authored the book as fiction. Indeed, so great was the public propensity to equate the novel's hero with Johnson himself that Johnson felt obliged to write his autobiography, which appeared in 1933 under the title Along This Way.
He had, by this time, established himself as an important figure in the Harlem Renaissance. From his post as field secretary of the NAACP, Johnson was a witness to the changes taking place in the artistic sphere. As a prominent voice in the literary debates of the day, Johnson undertook the task of editing The Book of American Negro Poetry (1922), The Book of American Negro Spirituals (1925), The Second Book of American Negro Spirituals (1926), and writing his survey of African American cultural contributions to the New York artistic scene in Black Manhattan (1930). His own career as a poet reached its culmination in God’s Trombones, Seven Negro Sermons in Verse, published in 1927. Though not noted for playing the role of polemicist, through each of these literary enterprises Johnson worked to refute biased commentary from white critics while prodding African American writers toward a more ambitious vision of literary endeavor. It was Johnson's great hope that the contributions of younger writers would do for African Americans, "what [John Millington] Synge did for the Irish," namely utilizing folk materials to "express the racial spirit [of African Americans] from within, rather than [through] symbols from without. . . ." Hence Johnson's attempt to discredit Negro dialect, a literary convention characterized by misspellings and malapropisms, which in Johnson's view was capable of conveying only pathos or humor. Though writers like Zora Neale Hurston and Sterling A. Brown would challenge this viewpoint, Johnson's point must be understood within the context of his life as a public figure.
With the arrival of the 1930s, Johnson had seen the NAACP’s membership rolls and political influence increase, though the latter failed to produce tangible legislative and social reform in Washington. Retiring to a life as Professor of Creative Literature and Writing at Fisk University, Johnson lectured widely on the topics of racial advancement and civil rights, while completing Negro Americans, What Now? (1934), a book that argued for the merits of racial integration and cooperation, and his last major verse collection, Saint Peter Relates an Incident: Selected Poems (1934). Though he died in a tragic automobile accident while vacationing in Maine in June of 1938, Johnson continues to be remembered for his unflappable integrity and his devotion to human service. From The Oxford Companion to African American Literature. Copyright © Oxford University Press.
. It was during his college years that he first became aware of the depth of the racial problem in the United States, and Johnson's experience teaching black schoolchildren in a poor district of rural Georgia during two summers left a deep impression on him. The struggles and aspirations of American blacks form a central theme in the thirty or so poems that Johnson wrote as a student.
Return to 123HelpMe.com