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James Weldon Johnson
Poet & Civil Rights Leader Black intellectual James Weldon Johnson played a vital role in the civil rights movement of the twentieth century--as poet, teacher, critic, diplomat and NAACP official. Johnson is perhaps most often popularly remembered as the lyricist for "Lift Every Voice and Sing", the poem which is often referred to as the black national anthem. Born in 1871 in Jacksonville, Florida, Johnson was educated at Atlanta and Columbia universities. His career included service as a school principal, a lawyer and a diplomat (U.S. Consul at Puerto Cabello, Venezuela and, later, in Nicaragua). From 1916 to 1930 he was a key policy maker of the NAACP, eventually serving as the organization's executive secretary. In his early days, Johnson's fame rested largely on his lyrics for popular songs, but in 1917 he completed his first book of poetry, Fifty Years and Other Poems. Five years later, he followed this with The Book of American Negro Poetry, and in 1927 he established his literary reputation with God's Trombones, a collection of seven folk sermons in verse. Over the years, this work has been performed countless times, on stage and television. In 1930, Johnson finished St. Peter Relates an Incident of the Resurrection and, three years later, his lengthy autobiography, Along This Way. Johnson died in 1938 following an automobile accident in Maine.