The Negro National Anthem
James Weldon Johnson was born in Jacksonville, Florida. His father was a headwaiter at a hotel and his mother was a teacher at the segregated Stanton School. Johnson grew up in a middle-class home, and his mother encouraged him to pursue an interest in reading and music. Johnson attended Stanton until he entered high school. He attended high school and college at Atlanta University. He received his bachelor’s in 1894.
After college, Johnson pursued several endeavors. He became the principal of Stanton School, and expanded the school to include a high school. He also began studying the law under the instruction of a white attorney. In 1898, he was admitted to the Florida Bar. Johnson continued to serve as principal, but he also began practicing law. While balancing his dual career, Johnson found time to write poetry and songs.
In 1901, Johnson decided to pursue a career in writing. Johnson and his brother, John Rosamond Johnson, left for New York City to write songs for musicals. They achieved success with the composition of around two hundred songs for Broadway.
Johnson practiced law in Jacksonville for several years in partnership with a former Atlanta University classmate while continuing to serve as the Stanton School’s principal. He also continued to write poetry and discovered his gift for songwriting in collaboration with his brother Rosamond, a talented composer. Among other songs in a spiritual-influenced popular idiom, Johnson penned the lyrics to "Lift Every Voice and Sing," a tribute to Black endurance, hope, and religious faith that was later adopted by the NAACP and dubbed “the Negro National Anthem.”