James Weldon Johnson

Black History Heroes | James Weldon Johnson
Posted on 02/03/2020
James Weldon Johnson Author of The African American National Anthem

Lift Every Voice and Sing – often called “The Black National Anthem” – was written as a poem by NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) and then set to music by his brother John Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954) in 1899. It was first performed in public in the Johnsons’ hometown of Jacksonville, Florida as part of a celebration of Lincoln’s Birthday on February 12, 1900 by a choir of 500 schoolchildren at the segregated Stanton School, where James Weldon Johnson was principal.

 Here is the first verse of “Lift Every Voice and Sing”

Lyrics:
“Lift ev’ry voice and sing,
‘Til earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list’ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on ’til victory is won.”

James Weldon Johnson (June 17, 1871 – June 26, 1938) was an American author, educator, lawyer, diplomat, songwriter, and civil rights activist. Johnson is widely celebrated for his leadership of the NAACP, where he began working in 1917. In 1920 he was the first African American to be chosen as executive secretary of the organization, effectively the operating officer. He served in that position from 1920 to 1930.

Johnson established his reputation as a writer, and was known during the Harlem Renaissance for his poems, novels, and anthologies collecting both poems and spirituals of black culture. He was appointed under President Theodore Roosevelt as US consul in Venezuela and Nicaragua for most of the period from 1906 to 1913.

In 1934 he became the first African-American professor to be hired at New York University. Later in life he served as a professor of creative literature and writing at Fisk University, a historically black university.



NAACP Logo graphic

SDIRC would like to thank the Indian River County NAACP Branch #5151 for providing the content in today's 'Black History Heroes' biography.