“Young man, young man, your arm’s too short to box with God.”
-James Weldon Johnson
James Weldon Johnson was born on June 17, 1871, in Jacksonville, Florida. Johnson distinguished himself equally as a man of letters and as a civil rights leader in the early decades of the twentieth century. A talented poet and novelist, Johnson is credited with bringing a new standard of artistry and realism to black literature in such works as The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man and God’s Trombones. He founded the Daily American newspaper in 1895, passed the bar in 1897, and wrote the song, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” His pioneering studies of black poetry, music, and theater in the 1920s also helped introduce many white Americans to the genuine African American creative spirit, hitherto known mainly through the distortions of the minstrel show and dialect poetry. Meanwhile, as head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) during the 1920s, Johnson led determined civil rights campaigns in an effort to remove the legal, political, and social obstacles hindering black achievement.