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Southern LiterBEARy Portraits
James Weldon Johnson

Picture of James Welldon Johnson

Protrait provided by Katie and Kaitlin of
St. Marks Episcopal School,
Palm Beach Garden, Florida

by Katie
James Weldon Johnson was born in Jacksonville, Florida on June 17, 1871. He was the middle child of three children. His parents inspired his interests in reading, writing, and music. He went to Atlanta University and soon graduated.
After he graduated, he became the principal of Jacksonville school where his mother taught. He improved the school by adding ninth and tenth grades. When the youngest Johnson brother graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music they came together in 1899 and made a comic opera called "Tolosa" which was not successful. James wrote "Lift Every Voice and Sing", which was soon called "Negro National Anthem." and his brother composed the music. The brother teamed up with Bob Cole to write songs. Then they moved to New York where they became very successful. James soon got tired of music.
In 1906 he secured a consulship at Puerto Cabello, Venezuela. There he could find time to work on his poetry and write his novel. In 1909 he went to Nicaragua and found his wife, Grace Nail Johnson. He soon finished his novel there in 1912. It was called The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man.
In 1913 He returned back to the U.S. In 1917 He published his first poetry titled Fifty Years and Other Poems. In 1934 Johnson published Negro Americans, What Now? Johnson died on June 26, 1938 near his summer home in Maine when a train hit his car. Over 2,000 people attended his funeral.

By Kaitlin
James Weldon Johnson was born in Jacksonville, Florida. He was very interested in reading and music. He graduated from the first female black public school in Florida where his mother taught. He went to Atlanta University and received his A.B. in 1894.He taught for two summers in Hampton, Georgia and during the summer before his senior year he went on the Colombian Exposition in Chicago. He listened to Frederick Douglass's speeches and Paul Laurence Dunbar on "Colored People's Day." After Johnson graduated at Atlanta, he became the principal of the school that his mother had taught in Jacksonville. During this time he added a ninth and tenth grade to the school. In 1894 Johnson began the newspaper, The Daily American, that educated black adults. After only eight months he had to end the paper because of money problems. Johnson began to study law while still attending to his job at the school. He became the first African American to pass the bar exam in Florida.
John Rosamond, Johnson's younger brother, graduated from New England Conservatory of Music in 1897. Johnson and his younger brother made an unsuccessful try at making an opera called "Tolosa". Even though the opera failed, Johnson became excited and started writing lyrics to songs. His brother wrote the music. The brothers wrote a song that became the Blacks' National Anthem. The song was called "Lift every voice and sing." In 1902 Johnson quit his job as principal and moved to New York with his brother where they joined Bob Cole in writing songs. Johnson decided to stop writing music and took graduate courses. He became the writer of the New York Ages and later wrote a book called Fifty Years and Other Poems. In 1920 Johnson became field security of the NAACP, but still found time to write poetry. He wrote three more books called The Book of American Negro Poetry, The Book of American Negro Spirituals, and The Second Book of Negro Spirituals. Johnson left his job at the NAACP and wrote a couple more books. Johnson wrote a autobiography called Along His Way. In June of 1938 Johnson's car was hit by a train. Over 2,000 people came to his funeral.

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page updated 8/08/02