James Weldon Johnson was born in 1871 in Jacksonville, Florida. He was encouraged to study English literature and the European musical tradition. He attended Atlanta University with the intention that the education he received there would be used to further the interests of the black people. After graduation, he took a job as a high school principal in Jacksonville.In 1900, he wrote the song "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" on the occasion of Lincoln's birthday; the song which became immensely popular in the black community and became known as the "Negro National Anthem." Johnson moved to New York in 1901 to collaborate with his brother Rosamond, a composer, and attained some success as a songwriter for Broadway, but decided to take a job as U.S. Consul to Venezuela in 1906.

He had a talent for persuading people of differing ideological agendas to work together for a common goal, and in 1920 he became the national organizer for the NAACP. A trip he took to Georgia while a freshman in college ignited his interest in the African-American folk tradition.James Weldon Johnson died in 1938.
James Weldon Johnson