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James Weldon Johnson

James Weldon Johnson was a prominent African American leader born on June 17, 1871 in Jacksonville, Florida. He was brought up in a liberal environment where his parents encouraged him to acquire an education and pursue his dreams. His mother taught him and his brother the works of classical literature as well as music. After finishing high school, Johnson took admission in Clark Atlanta University from where he received a bachelor’s degree in 1894.  He then returned to his hometown to work as the principal of the Stanton School. He was only 23 years old at the time.

One of Johnson’s earliest accomplishments was to establish a newspaper centered on issues faced by the black community. He named it the “Daily American”. The publication only lasted for one year before it succumbed to financial troubles. However, it helped him to establish his presence in society and brought him into the notice of eminent personalities such as Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois. Johnson then decided to study law and became the first African American to pass the bar exams. He established a successful practice in Jacksonville while his brother studied at the New England Conservatory of Music. Eventually Jackson joined his brother in New York where they both began writing songs for Broadway musicals. Together they wrote over 200 songs, but the most famous one was “Lift Every Voice and Sing”. This was originally written as a celebration for Abraham Lincoln’s birthday but was later hailed as the “black anthem” by National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

James Weldon Johnson was a prolific author and wrote several books and poems including “God’s Trombones” in 1927 and “Fifty Years and Other Poems” in 1917. He was an important part of the African American group known as the Harlem Renaissance and contributed several books, poems and lectures. It was during this time that he wrote “The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man” in 1912 which he first published anonymously and only later admitted to being the

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