James Weldon Johnson was a true Renaissance man. Born in Florida, he moved to New York City as a young man during the Great Migration out of the South. His accomplishments throughout his life were far and wide:
Educator – Taught at Stanton, a school for Black students in Jacksonville, Florida, where he was promoted to principal. Improved Black education by expanding the school to include a high school curriculum. Also the first Black professor to be hired at New York University, teaching classes in literature and culture.
Attorney – First Black attorney admitted to the Florida Bar after Reconstruction.
Diplomat – Appointed by the Roosevelt Administration to serve as U.S. consul in Venezuela. Then transferred to serve as U.S. consul in Nicaragua.
Civil Rights Activist – Early leader of the NAACP, first to be appointed as Executive Secretary of the organization, where he helped to open new branches and expand membership.
Writer – Recognized during the Harlem Renaissance for his poetry, novel and anthologies of spirituals.
Lyricist – Wrote the influential and inspirational lyrics for “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” which his brother set to music, in honor of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. Also became a successful Broadway songwriter, composing more than 200 songs with his brother.