James Weldon Johnson

A voice for the African American community


James Weldon Johnson was born in Jacksonville, FL on Jan. 17, 1871. During his lifetime Johnson made his mark as an author and civil rights activist 

After graduating from Atlanta University, Johnson came home to Jacksonville to teach at Stanton Institute. Under his leadership, Stanton went from being a primary school to a fully functioning
high school.

While working as a teacher in 1897, Johnson studied Florida Law in order prepare for the bar exam. 

In order to be accepted, Johnson had a two-hour oral examination before three attorneys and a judge. One of the examiners, not wanting to see a black man admitted, left the room.

It was also during his time at Stanton that Johnson would make his mark in the musical arena.

Johnson, along with his brother Rosamond Johnson, wrote what is known as the “Negro National Anthem.” The song was written to honor Booker T. Washington, who was visiting Stanton at the time.

Johnson later retired from Stanton to focus more on his literary career.

His first book, “The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man,” was published in 1912. The book, along with many others that followed, saw
enormous success.

In 1920, Johnson was appointed as the first executive secretary of the NAACP in 1920, where he served for ten years. In this role, he helped to improve and restore chapters across the South.

Johnson’s reputation as a writer and poet was very influential during the Harlem Renaissance, which Johnson referred to as the “flowering of Negro literature.” During this time, he worked hard to support other young writers.

His writings reflected the African American experience in America. He was one of the first voices for many African Americans.

Johnson’s was the voice the African-American community needed in the time of turmoil that they faced. He continued to be that voice until his death on June 26, 1938.