James Weldon Johnson Lyricist and Poet
Personal and Literary Biography • First African-American to pass the bar in Florida while he was working as the principal at his former elementary school • Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man--the first novel to treat Harlem and Atlanta as subjects. • Edited first anthology of African-American Poets (1922) and with his brother complied the first songbook of negro spirituals (1925) • “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” (1900), written with his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, later was adopted by the N.A.A.C.P and later referred to as the Negro National Anthem. • God’s Trombones (1927), a series of verse told through the voice of a folk preacher • After serving in Nicaragua and Venezuela, Johnson joined the N.A.A.C.P. • Organized the Silent March of 1917 in Manhattan to protest lynching and lend the campaign which eventually became the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill of 1921, which would have made lynching a national crime, but failed to get enough votes in the Senate. • After serving as the head of the N.A.A.C.P, Johnson retired in 1930 and spent his time teaching creative writing at Fisk University and New York University, where he became the first African-American faculty member. • Tragically, he died in a car crash in 1938. He was 67.
“Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” A group of young men in Jacksonville, Florida, arranged to celebrate Lincoln’s birthday in 1900. My brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, and I decided to write a song to be sung at the exercises. I wrote the words and he wrote the music. Our New York publisher, Edward B. Marks, made mimeographed copies for us, and the song was taught to and sung by a chorus of five hundred colored school children. Shortly afterwards my brother and I moved away from Jacksonville to New York, and the song passed out of our minds. But the school children of Jacksonville kept singing it; they went off to other schools and sang it; they became teachers and taught it to other children. Within twenty years it was being sung over the South and in some other parts of the country. Today the song, popularly known as the Negro National Hymn, is quite generally used. The lines of this song repay me in an elation, almost of exquisite anguish, whenever I hear them sung by Negro children. (Johnson, Poetry Foundation)
Poetry Analysis Link to Audio of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" Poem Overview • Opening Stanza develops a series of images that give “voice” to the call for Liberty and Victory over the “Dark Past” • The Second Stanza details the “path through the blood of the slaughtered” and the tone builds the past and the frustration in the present • The final stanza develops as open (and shared) prayer to God to maintain one’s own morality. Key Devices: • Imagery-sounds and sights that emphasize the stanza’s “message” • Anaphora--creates an amplification of the “we” persona, but also Johnson also uses these to signal a musical shift • Abstract Concepts: Hope, Faith, Liberty--ideals expressed by the “Voice” • Speaker and Audience: Group Persona develops through the use of “We” and “Our”--A collective community
Class Activity Stanza Imagery Graphic Organizer 3-Column: Voice, Dark Past, Path In each column, write down lines that develop the central image/idea Anaphoric Impact 2-Column: Anaphora & Impact Analysis Select 5 anaphoras and discuss how they develop the message of the lines.
The Creation Audio of James Weldon Johnson's December 24, 1935 reading at Columbia University Diction and Imagery • “Folk” language • Relatable View of the Story Characterization of God: • “man”-like • creative powers • use of Epic similes to create actions
Class Activities Epic Similes: • Find 4 similes that build the relatability of God • How do they reflect a sense of God’s persona? Voice of a Preacher: • Find 5 lines which create the persona of the preacher • How do these build the sermon-like quality?
Works Cited "James Weldon Johnson Institute." James Weldon Johnson Institute. Emory University, 2014. Web. 03 Dec. 2014 Johnson, James W. “ Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.” Harlem Renaissance Poetry Packet. Ed. Christina Moriconi. 2014. Web. 03 Dec. 2014. Johnson, James W. “ The Creation.” Harlem Renaissance Poetry Packet. Ed. Christina Moriconi. 2014. Web. 03 Dec. 2014. "James Weldon Johnson - The Creation-Audio" YouTube. YouTube, 27 Apr. 2014. Web. 03 Dec. 2014. Johnson, James W. “Life Every Voice and Sing.” Poetry Foundation. 2000.. Web. 03 Dec. 2014.