James Weldon Johnson (pictured) lives on in history and is often best-known for his leadership of the NAACP by becoming the organization’s first Black manager. Johnson was born in to a family that promoted education, and as a result, he went on to achieve amazing feats despite living in a time period that still shunned educated African Americans. NewsOne takes a look back in to the life and triumphs of James Weldon Johnson on his birthday.
Johnson was born in Jacksonville, Fla., to parents Helen Louise Dillet and James. Johnson’s mother was the first Black female teacher in Florida and taught her son literature and music in order to bolster his studies. Johnson’s father was a headwaiter at a posh hotel; Johnson was inspired to succeed based on watching his father’s hard work.
Consequently, Johnson entered Atlanta University (now Clark-Atlanta) at the age of 16, graduating in 1894.
As a college freshman, Johnson went to a rural community in Georgia to teach children of former slaves. The experience changed him, giving him the motivation to do more for his people.
Johnson shared in written account in 1891 of the venture:
In all of my experience, there has been no period so brief that has meant so much in my education for life as the three months I spent in the backwoods of Georgia. I was thrown for the first time on my own resources and abilities.
Johnson kept education as the core of his work, heading Jacksonville’s largest school in 1906 at age 35. Although Johnson was qualified as any other principal, he received less than half the wages of White principals who led schools of his size. Johnson added ninth and tenth grade courses to the Stanton School (now Stanton College Prep), improving the stakes for the young people there by virtue of challenging them.