James Weldon Johnson Additional Biography


(Poets and Poetry in America)

James William Johnson (who became James Weldon Johnson in 1913) and John Rosamond Johnson were the two surviving children of headwaiter and minister James Johnson and Helen Louise Dillet Johnson. Johnson’s mother was a musician and was the first African American female to teach in a Florida public grammar school, the Edwin M. Stanton School, where she taught her son. Because there was no local high school for African Americans, the young Johnson enrolled in Atlanta University’s preparatory school in 1887. By 1894, he had a B.A. from Atlanta University, had toured with a male quartet, was the principal at Stanton School, and was studying law. After passing the bar, he practiced law part-time (1898-1901).

At Stanton, Johnson developed a set of courses that allowed the school’s African American students to earn a high school education. In 1895, he started The Daily American, Jacksonville’s—and possibly the United States’—first daily African American newspaper. His “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” written in 1900, became nationally known.

Johnson moved to New York after a fire destroyed the Stanton School in 1901. With his brother, John Rosamond Johnson, and Robert Cole, a performer, producer, and composer, Johnson wrote more than two hundred songs. He studied at Columbia (1903-1906), earned an M.A. from Atlanta University, and completed a European theatrical tour. The two brothers campaigned for Theodore Roosevelt and wrote his...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111202775-Johnson_J.jpg James Weldon Johnson. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

The poet, songwriter, novelist, teacher, administrator, social critic, and diplomat James Weldon Johnson deserved the title “renaissance man” often applied to him. His mother, Helen Dillet Johnson, was born in Nassau, in the Bahamas, and grew up in New York City; his father, James Johnson, was born a free man in Richmond, Virginia, and lived for a time in New York, where he met Helen Dillet, and in Nassau, where the couple married. The Johnson family moved from Nassau to escape a depressed economy and prospered in Jacksonville, where Johnson’s mother worked as an elementary-school teacher and his father worked as the headwaiter at a fashionable hotel. Johnson grew up in a cosmopolitan home which offered the boy emotional, physical, and financial security. His father, who taught him Spanish, stimulated Johnson’s interest in languages and developed his sense of tact; his mother, an amateur singer and poet, inspired his interest in music and poetry.

Johnson attended Atlanta University, a school founded and run by Yale University graduates. Johnson’s Yale-influenced higher education reflected late nineteenth century New England attitudes. He never lost the belief that high culture could have a morally elevating effect, and he also believed that racial integration would start with those who shared a love and appreciation of the best in art and literature. Upon graduating from Atlanta University in 1894, Johnson taught at Stanton School (his elementary alma mater) and one year later became its principal. In his spare time he wrote poetry, composed song lyrics, and read law; he was admitted to the Florida bar after passing an unusually stringent oral examination by an all-white panel. He spent summers in New York City composing popular songs with his brother, John Rosamond Johnson, who had become a vaudeville sensation in partnership with the singer-dancer Bob Cole. For a Stanton School graduation exercise the Johnson brothers...

(The entire section is 796 words.)


(Novels for Students)

James William Johnson was born in Jacksonville, Florida, on June 17, 1871. His father was headwaiter at an expensive restaurant, and his...

(The entire section is 490 words.)