In 1917, Johnson organized and led a well-publicized silent march through the streets of New York City to protest lynchings, and his on-site investigation of abuses committed by American marines against Black citizens of Haiti during the US occupation of that Caribbean nation in 1920 captured headlines and helped launch a congressional probe into the matter.
“Fifty Years,” a sonorous poem commemorating the half-century since the Emancipation Proclamation, was generally singled out for praise, but critics differed on the merits of Johnson’s dialect verse written after the manner of the great Black dialect poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington.

His three-year term of service occurred during a period of intense political turmoil in Nicaragua, which culminated in the landing of US troops at Corinto in 1912.

Outside the South, many faced discrimination but had more political rights and chances for education and work. [14] "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" contrasted with W.E.B. Hosted by Al Filreis and featuring Herman Beavers, Salamishah Tillet, Chris Mustazza.

He became involved in civil rights activism, especially the campaign to pass the federal Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill, as Southern states did not prosecute perpetrators. The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man bears a superficial resemblance to other “tragic mulatto” narratives of the day that depicted, often in sentimental terms, the travails of mixed-race protagonists unable to fit into either racial culture. Johnson’s in-depth report, which was published by the Nation magazine in a four-part series titled “Self-Determining Haiti,” also had an impact on the presidential race that year, helping to shift public sentiment from the interventionist policies associated with the Wilson Democrats toward the more isolationist position of the Republican victor, Warren Harding. In 1913, seeing little future for himself under President Woodrow Wilson’s Democratic administration, Johnson resigned from the foreign service and returned to New York to become an editorial writer for the New York Age, the city’s oldest and most distinguished Black newspaper. I brood not over the broken past,Nor dread whatever time may bring;No nights are dark, no days are long,While in my heart there swells a song,       And I can sing.

In 1920 Johnson was chosen as the first black executive secretary of the NAACP, effectively the operating officer position. Johnson’s mother stimulated his early interests in reading, drawing, and music, and he attended the segregated Stanton School, where she taught, until the eighth grade. He chose anonymity to avoid any controversy that might endanger his diplomatic career. By this time, tens of thousands of African Americans had left the South for northern and midwestern cities in the Great Migration, but the majority still lived in the South. Among other songs in a spiritual-influenced popular idiom, Johnson penned the lyrics to “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a tribute to Black endurance, hope, and religious faith that was later adopted by the NAACP and dubbed “the Negro National Anthem.”.

Johnson died tragically in June 1938, after a train struck the car he was riding in at an unguarded rail crossing in Wiscasset, Maine. [11] Johnson drew on his law background especially during his years as a civil rights activist and leading the NAACP. © Academy of American Poets, 75 Maiden Lane, Suite 901, New York, NY 10038.

In addition to discussing literature, he lectured on a wide range of issues related to the lives and civil rights of black Americans.

Despite this violent reaction, Johnson was credited with substantially increasing the NAACP’s membership strength and political influence during this period, although his strenuous efforts to get a federal anti-lynching bill passed proved unsuccessful. He organized political rallies. With few official duties, Johnson was able to devote much of his time in that sleepy tropical port to writing poetry, including the acclaimed sonnet “Mother Night” that was published in The Century magazine and later included in Johnson’s verse collection Fifty Years and Other Poems (1917). He earned critical acclaim in 1922 for editing a seminal collection of Black verse, titled The Book of American Negro Poetry. In 1904 he participated in Theodore Roosevelt's successful presidential campaign. He traveled to Memphis, Tennessee, for example, to investigate a brutal lynching that was witnessed by thousands.

(So many readers believed it to be truly autobiographical that Johnson eventually wrote his real life story, Along This Way, to avoid confusion.). He knew he was expected to devote himself to helping black people advance. He served as treasurer of New York’s Colored Republican Club in 1904 and helped write two songs for Republican candidate Theodore Roosevelt’s successful presidential campaign that year.

His funeral in Harlem was attended by more than 2000 people. In this period, he also published his first poetry collection, Fifty Years and Other Poems (1917).

These early endeavors were the start of Johnson's long period of activism.

He was also the first black in Duval County to seek admission to the state bar. Disappointed with the neglectful minority rights policies of Republican presidents Harding and Calvin Coolidge, Johnson broke with the Republican party in the early 1920s and briefly supported Robert LaFollette’s Progressive party. He continued to publish his own poetry as well.

In his youth, he aspires to become a great Black American musical composer, but he fearfully renounces that ambition after watching a mob of whites set fire to a Black man in the rural South.

Both his father, a resort hotel headwaiter, and his mother, a schoolteacher, had lived in the North and had never been enslaved, and James and his brother John Rosamond grew up in broadly cultured and economically secure surroundings that were unusual among Southern Black families at the time.

Johnson returned to New York, where he was involved in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. James Weldon Johnson (June 17, 1871 – June 26, 1938) was an American writer and civil rights activist. In 1930, he published a sociological study, Black Manhattan (1930). His pioneering studies of Black poetry, music, and theater in the 1920s introduced many white Americans to the rich African American creative spirit, hitherto known mainly through the distortions of the minstrel show and dialect poetry.
In 1910, Johnson married Grace Nail, whom he had met in New York City several years earlier while working as a songwriter. In 1909, he transferred to Corinto, Nicaragua.

"Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" had influenced other artistic works, inspiring art such as Gwendolyn Ann Magee's quilted mosaics. [4], The achievement of his father, headwaiter at the St. James Hotel, a luxury establishment built when Jacksonville was one of Florida's first winter resort destinations, inspired young James to pursue a professional career. Appointed in 1920 as the first executive secretary of the NAACP, Johnson helped increase membership and extended the movement's reach by organizing numerous new chapters in the South. Their mother imparted to them her great love and knowledge of English literature and the European tradition in music.

He improved black education by adding the ninth and tenth grades to the school, to extend the years of schooling. James Weldon Johnson died on June 26, 1938. With his talent for persuading people of differing ideologies to work together for a common goal, Johnson became the national organizer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1920.

Johnson also collaborated on the opera Tolosa with his brother, who wrote the music; it satirized the U.S. annexation of the Pacific islands. During this time, James Weldon Johnson also studied creative literature formally for three years at Columbia University and became active in Republican party politics. Du Bois, respectively—Johnson backed Washington, who in turn played an important role in getting the Roosevelt Administration to appoint Johnson as United States consul in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, in 1906.