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James Weldon Johnson achieved many high marks in his life, including becoming chosen as the first Black Executive Secretary of the NAACP. The co-author of the “Negro National Anthem” was born June 17, 1871, in Jacksonville, Florida.

Their musician mother exposed Johnson, and his brother, composer John Rosamond Johnson, to music and literature at an early age. Johnson enrolled in Atlanta University at 16, graduating in 1894. In a few years, he moved to New York to join his brother in songwriting and composing, with the brothers finding some success on Broadway with their works.

Johnson, who was an active poet, penned the work “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” as a poem, which is brother composed music for. The NAACP adopted the song as the “Negro National Hymn”. In 1920, Johnson was named to the NAACP’s top post, serving until 1930. Prior to the NAACP job, Johnson served as a diplomat under President Theodore Roosevelt as a consul for Venezuela and later Nicaragua.

In 1934, Johnson was hired as New York University’s first Black professor. Along with his many endeavors, Johnson was supportive of the Black arts during the Harlem Renaissance, assisting young writers and poets gain exposure for their works.

James Weldon Johnson passed in 1938 at the age of 67.

PHOTO: Public Domain

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