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James Weldon Johnson was born in Jacksonville, Florida on June 17th 1871. His mother, Helen, a musician and a public school teacher initially home-schooled him giving him a love of both English literature and European music. At 16 his education moved to Atlanta University and he graduated with a degree in 1894. In 1904 Johnson helped in Theodore Roosevelt's presidential bid. On winning Roosevelt appointed him as US consul at Puerto Cabello, Venezuela in 1906 and then Nicaragua from 1909. Johnson worked for the NAACP from 1916 as a field secretary, organizing local chapters. To counter race riots and lynching’s he organized mass demonstrations, such as a silent protest parade of over ten thousand African Americans down New York’s Fifth Avenue in July 1917. In 1920 Johnson was elected to manage the NAACP, the first African American to hold this position. That same year he was dispatched to monitor conditions in Haiti and described in The Nation the brutal occupation and also offered remedies. During the 1920’s he was one of the major inspirations of the Harlem RenaissanceIn the midst of all this he continued to write novels, poems, and folklore. In 1917, he saw published ‘50 Years and Other Poems’. In 1922, he edited ‘The Book of American Negro Poetry’, which the Academy of American Poets calls "a major contribution to the history of African-American literature." In 1927 followed ‘God's Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse’. One of the first African-American professors at NYU he was also, later, a professor of creative literature and writing at Fisk University. His career spanned several elements; education, the diplomatic corps, civil rights activism, literature, poetry, and music. James Weldon Johnson died on June 26th, 1938 whilst vacationing in Wiscasset, Maine when his car was hit by a train.Show more
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