Johnson, James Weldon

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

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James Weldon Johnson was a key figure in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) between 1916 and 1930, and helped transform that organization into the leading African?American CIVIL RIGHTS advocacy group in the United States. Johnson's efforts as NAACP field secretary greatly increased the number of NAACP branches and members, and his work as executive secretary during the 1920s expanded the association's LOBBYING, litigation, fund-raising, and publicity campaigns. Johnson was also a highly accomplished writer and played a vital role in the African?American literary movement known as the Harlem Renaissance.

Johnson was born June 17, 1871, in Jacksonville, Florida. His parents, James Johnson and Helen Louise Dillette Johnson, encouraged his pursuit of education, and he graduated from Atlanta University in 1894. He then took a job as principal at the Stanton School in Jacksonville, where he established a high school program.

He studied law with a white lawyer in his spare time, and in 1898 was admitted to the Florida bar. He also wrote lyrics for songs composed by his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson. In 1900 the two wrote the song "Lift Every Voice and Sing," which later became known as the "Negro National Anthem." The two brothers moved to New York in 1902 and went on to become a highly successful songwriting team.

Johnson became involved in New York politics. In 1904 he became treasurer of the city's Colored Republican Club, helping with the campaign to reelect THEODORE ROOSEVELT to the presidency. On the recommendation of W. E. B. DU BOIS, an African?American scholar and civil rights leader, Johnson was named U.S. consul to Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, in 1906. Two years later he was appointed consul to Corinto, Nicaragua. He remained in that position until 1913, when he resigned. Johnson believed that the election of WOODROW WILSON, a Democrat, to the presidency, as well as significant racial prejudice, would interfere with his advancement

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in the consular service. In 1910 he married Grace Nail. The couple had no children.

Johnson returned to New York and in 1914 became an editorialist and columnist at the New York Age newspaper. Two years later he was offered a position as field secretary for the NAACP, which was founded in 1909 to improve the situation of African Americans. In that office Johnson traveled widely and did much to help the NAACP grow from nine thousand...

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