Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea
-- "Lift Every Voice and Sing"
Song by J. Rosamond Johnson and James Weldon Johnson
American writer and civil rights activist Jame Weldon Johnson (June 17, 1871 - June 26, 1938) began working for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1917 and became its executive secretary just three years later. A persuasive leader, he organized peaceful, mass demonstrations, among them the silent parade of thousands of African Americans on July 28, 1917, down Fifth Avenue in New York, to protest injustices. In the 1920's, Johnson was an influential member of the Harlem Renaissance; his famous poem, "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing", was adapted to music by his brother, only to become the unofficial "Negro National Anthem." He authored The Autobiography Of an Ex-Colored Man (1912); Fifty Years and Other Poems (1917); The Book of American Negro Poetry (1922); God's Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse (1927); Black Manhattan (1930); and Negro Americans, What Now? (1934). He also compiled and edited the anthology The Book of American Negro Spirituals (1925). Beyond his writings, Johnson was a teacher at Stanton Elementary School, Jacksonville, Florida; a lawyer, and first Black man admitted to the Florida Bar since Reconstruction; a songwriter, having composed over 200 songs for Broadway; and diplomat appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt to serve as United States Consul in Venezuela, and then, Nicaragua.
With the upcoming federal holiday of Juneteenth, also known as Emancipation Day, the oldest known commemoration of the freeing of enslaved people in the United States, it is fitting that we draw attention to the contributions of James Weldon Johnson who was born today, June 17th, 1871, for led an extraordinary life that embraced activism, education, diplomacy, and the arts.
The following articles are drawn from Proquest Historical Newspapers, which informs and inspires classroom teaching and learning.
- Two Thousand in New York Cheer Spingarn, Johnson and Senator Wagner: Senator Assails Prejudice; N.A.A.C.P. Principles Should Be Religion, Says James Weldon Johnson. (1931, Jan 10). Afro-American (1893-)
- Jasper, J. (1947, Jun 14). Lift Every Voice and Sing: Story Of an Anthem Written By Accident. Afro-American (1893-)
- Toppin, E. (1972, Apr 15). James Weldon Johnson: A Many-Sided Man. Afro-American (1893-)
- James Weldon Johnson, Teacher, Diplomat, Poet. (1976, Feb 14). Philadelphia Tribune (1912-)
- Our Democracy and the Ballot: James Weldon Johnson Was a Poet, Diplomat, and a Prominent Black Leader Of 1920's and 1930's. (1979, Feb 12). The Sun (1837-)
- Coleman, G. M. (1979, Mar 02). James Weldon Johnson, NAACP Idol. Atlanta Daily World (1932-)
- James Weldon Johnson Featured in NAACP Journal. (1980, Apr 27). Atlanta Daily World (1932-)
- AU Hosts James Weldon Johnson Exhibition and Lecture Monday. (1987, Oct 30). Atlanta Daily World (1932-)
- Wilson, S. (1988, Jul 02). 50th Anniversary of James Weldon Johnson's Death. New York Amsterdam News (1962-)
- James Weldon Johnson (1994, Feb 09). New Journal and Guide (1916-)
- Vechten, Carl van, and Rudolph P. Byrd. Generations in Black and White. Ed. Rudolph P. Byrd. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2014. e-book
- Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library. (1911). James Weldon Johnson. Courtesy New York Public Library Digital Collections.
- Special News Slide, Courtesy The Gottesman Libraries
Need to keep current, look to the past, teach a topic? The Everett Cafe features daily postings of news from around the world, and also promotes awareness of historical events from an educational context. Be sure to check additional Cafe News postings on the library blog.