James Weldon Johnson Biography

James Weldon Johnson Biography

Born: June 17, 1871, Jacksonville, Florida, United States
Died: June 26, 1938, Wiscasset, Maine, United States
Siblings: J. Rosamond Johnson
Education: Clark Atlanta University, Columbia University, Fisk University

Birth Details

Son of Helen Louise Dillet and James Johnson, James Weldon Johnson was born on 17 June 1871 at Jacksonville, Florida. Johnson went to Edwin M. Stanton School. His mother was instrumental in introducing Johnson to English literature and the European tradition in music. He would teach the children of slaves in Georgia.

Personal Biography

James Weldon Johnson was multi-talented. He assumed many roles, author, politician, critic, journalist, poet, anthologist, educator, lawyer and songwriter.

The Harlem Renaissance saw Johnson playing an important role during the 1920s. Johnson’s contribution to poetry, novels, short stories and folklore was recognized and became the first African-American professor at New York University .

Johnson became the principal of the largest school for African-American students in Jacksonville. He was subjected to racial discrimination and given half the salary in comparison to a white.

The educational standard was revised; he also introduced ninth and tenth grades. Algebra, English composition, physical geography and bookkeeping were incorporated into the ninth syllabus, while tenth class had additional subjects as geometry, English literature, elementary physics, history and Spanish. As an accomplished songwriter, Johnson met Grace Nail, a talented painter.

'The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man', written by Johnson, hailed him as a literary success. Published anonymously in 1912, Johnson became a proficient anthologist. His anthologies inspired new generation artists, who went on to create the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s.


Johnson and his brother featured in the opera Tolosa. It was a satirical performance on the U.S, and how the Pacific islands were annexed. Success came his way and Johnson became famous in the African-American society in Brooklyn, New York. An acclaimed poet, his works were printed in the noteworthy magazine 'The Century Magazine' and in 'The Independent'. Johnson was killed in a car accident in June 26, 1938


  • He was the first African-American professors at New York University.
  • Spence Chair of Creative Literature at Fisk University in Nashville.
  • Johnson’s composed the lyric of ‘Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing’ was adopted as the national Anthem of the Nation.
  • The first Black in Duval County to get admission into the state bar
  • National head for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
  • Producerof blockbusters 'Tell Me, Dusky Maiden' and 'Nobody's Looking but the Owl and the Moon'
  • He was the member of US consul of Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, in the year 1906.
  • Member of US consul of Corinto, Nicaragua 1909
  • Honored with the Harmon Gold Award for 'God's Trombones'.
  • Granted aid for the Julius Rosenwald Fund.
  • Johnson won the W.E.B. Du Bois Prize for Negro Literature,in 1933.

Quotes :

“Lift every voice and sing.”
― James Weldon Johnson

“And God stepped out on space, and He looked around and said: I'm lonely - I'll make me a world.”
― James Weldon Johnson, I'll Make Me a World: James Weldon Johnson's Story of the Creation

“It is strange how in some things honest people can be dishonest without the slightest compunction.”
― James Weldon Johnson

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