29 reasons to celebrate Black History Month: No. 18, James Weldon Johnson

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29 reasons to celebrate Black History Month: No. 18, James Weldon Johnson

February marks Black History Month. Follow the AJC this month for a series of short stories and videos and people, places and events that played a significant role in the development of black people in America. 

No. 18

James Weldon Johnson: James Weldon Johnson was an author, educator, lawyer, diplomat, songwriter and civil rights activist. In 1920, he became the first black executive secretary of the NAACP, serving until 1930.  Johnson was also a major figure of the Harlem Renaissance, writing poems, novels and anthologies. He wrote the lyrics to "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing," considered by many as the Negro National Anthem. He also wrote the classic novel, “The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man.”

The alumnus of Atlanta University (later Clark Atlanta University) was the first African American since reconstruction to pass the bar in his homestate of Florida.  Johnson, fluent in Spanish and French, was also the first African American to serve as the United States consul to Venezuela and Nicaragua. He was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt.

As executive secretary of the NAACP, Johnson organized in Manhattan the historic Silent March of 1917  to protest lynching. He also led a national anti-lynching campaign.

After his tenure with the NAACP, he went on to teach at Fisk University in Tennessee and later, he became the first black professor at New York University.

His papers are housed at Emory University at the James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study of Race and Difference.

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