James Weldon Johnson held many careers throughout his lifetime. He continued songwriting with his brother Rosamond and became a diplomat, lawyer, author, and Civil Rights activist.
James Weldon Johnson as diplomat
James Weldon Johnson's desk at the consulate in Venezuela
James Weldon Johnson entered the United States Consular Service in 1906 and served for seven years. From 1906 to 1909 he was posted in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, and in 1909 he was promoted and transferred to Corinto, Nicaragua, which was a more challenging post. While he was serving in Corinto, there was an attempt to overthrow the Nicaraguan government. He negotiated with both sides and coordinated his actions with the United States Navy.
NAACP Silent Protest Parade
Along This Way (excerpt regarding Silent Protest Parade)
James Weldon Johnson was involved in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) from 1916 through the end of his life. He served as Field Secretary, Executive Secretary, and later as a vice president.
In 1917, he organized a Silent Protest Parade in New York City to combat racial violence and discrimination. He describes the parade in his autobiography Along This Way.
"Lift Every Voice and Sing" was adopted by the NAACP and thereafter, the song became known as the Black National Anthem.
The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912)
God's Trombones (1927)
The Book of American Negro Poetry (1922)
He continued to write, publishing two volumes of poetry, a novel, and a cultural history of black New York. He served as a contributing editor to the New York Age, a newspaper, and edited The Book of American Negro Poetry (1922). With his brother, he edited two books of spirituals that introduced this traditional African American music to a wide audience.
Grace Nail Johnson
Grace and James Weldon Johnson in the 1930s
James Weldon Johnson married Grace Nail in 1910. After his death in a car accident in 1938, Grace donated her husband's papers to the Yale University Library. She then helped to establish the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection of African American Arts and Letters in the Yale Collection of American Literature. This collection celebrates the achievements of other African Americans including W.E.B. DuBois and Langston Hughes.
James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamond Johnson at piano, circa 1937.
The brothers always enjoyed getting together and sharing their love of music.