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Literary FOOTSTEPS

Florida’s 500 years of literary tradition begins with tales of adventure and exploration

STATE ARCHIVES OF FLORIDA

AWORLD IN MOTION By Thomas Hallock

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ot much survives at the childhood home of Florida native and renaissance man James Weldon Johnson. A sign marks the site, previously misidentified. Interstate 95 has carved up LaVilla, the once thriving Jacksonville neighborhood that nurtured his genius. The Stanton School, where Johnson attended and served as principal from 1894–1902, was replaced by a brick structure after a 1901 fire, and is blocked today by a locked fence and snarl of one-way streets. Newspaper clippings at the city’s Historical Society honor Johnson as “Forgotten No Longer” (1972), with “Recognition Belated” (1993). Born in 1871, the Bahamian-American stands as a giant of the Harlem Renaissance. Diplomat, activist and scholar, Johnson produced a staggeringly diverse body of literary work. Johnson’s songwriting credits include the lyrics to “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (music by his brother Rosamond), regarded by the NAACP as the Negro National Anthem. From a family of ministers, he set several sermons to verse in the breathtaking collection God’s Trombones, and his picaresque novel Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man grounds 20th century African-American literature.

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F O R U M

F L O R I D A

H U M A N I T I E S

C O U N C I L

Born June 17, 1871, in Jacksonville, James Weldon Johnson was a teacher, poet, essayist, social activist, diplomat, and songwriter. He was the first African American admitted to the Florida Bar and served as the first African American General Secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) from 1920–1930.

Profile for Florida Humanities

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