The immortal James Weldon Johnson was born on this day, the 17th of June, in 1871 in Jacksonville, Florida. I think of him as one of those wonderful examples where genius rises despite astonishing obstacles.
Against a backdrop of terrible racism and bigotry he made a life. Johnson was at various times in his remarkable life a poet, educator, lawyer, diplomat, songwriter, and always, an activist. He was never interested in his success alone.
James Weldon Johnson’s writings included the Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, Along the Way, and God’s Trombones. He also wrote the lyrics in a collaboration with his brother Rosamond for Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing…His life is a litany of accomplishments: civil rights leader, US counsel to Venezuela and Nicaragua,. first African American to be named a professor at New York University, and later professor of creative literature at Fisk.
James Weldon Johnson may at this point be best remembered as one of the leading lights of the Harlem Renaissance. A singular figure. Someone to remember. And someone to celebrate.