The Essential Writings of James Weldon Johnson (Modern Library Classics)
James Weldon Johnson
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“A canonical collection, splendidly and sensitively edited by Rudolph Byrd.”
–Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
One of the leading voices of the Harlem Resaissance and a crucial literary figure of his time, James Weldon Johnson was also an editor, songwriter, founding member and leader of the NAACP, and the first African American to hold a diplomatic post as consul to Venezuela and Nicaragua. This comprehensive volume of Johnson’s works includes the seminal novel Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, poems from God’s Trombones, essays on cultural and political topics, selections from Johnson’s autobiography, Along This Way, and two previously unpublished short plays: Do You Believe in Ghosts? and The Engineer. Featuring a chronology, bibliography, and a Foreword by acclaimed author Charles Johnson, this Modern Library edition showcases the tremendous range of James Weldon Johnson’s writings and their considerable influence on American civic and cultural life.
“This collection of poetry, fiction, criticism, autobiography, political writing and two unpublished plays by James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) spans 60 years of pure triumph over adversity. [….Johnson’s] nobility, his inspiration shine forth from these pages, setting moral and artistic standards.” —Los Angeles Times
purest sense of the phrase an American “Renaissance man.” (The pun is intentional, of course, given the pivotal role he played during the Harlem Renaissance.) But how does one become a Renaissance individual? Does his capacious life and character contain some truth about the art of living in a multiracial world that is useful to our children and ourselves? In other words, what was there about this man, born just eight years after the Emancipation Proclamation, that enabled him to create so
Nashville, Tennessee, June 1934. NEGRO AMERICANS, WHAT NOW? CHAPTER I CHOICES The world today is in a state of semi-chaos. We Negro Americans as a part of the world are affected by that state. We are affected by it still more vitally as a special group. We are not so sanguine about our course and our goal as we were a decade ago. We are floundering. We are casting about for ways of meeting the situation, both as Americans and as Negroes. In this casting about we have discovered and
of the direct influence it had on my life, but also because it was at that time the most famous place of its kind in New York, and was well known to both white and coloured people of certain classes. I have already stated that in the basement of the house there was a Chinese restaurant. The Chinaman who kept it did an exceptionally good business; for chop-suey was a favourite dish among the frequenters of the place. It is a food that, somehow, has the power of absorbing alcoholic liquors that
manager. Night after night this man held me fascinated. He convinced me that, after all, eloquence consists more in the manner of saying than in what is said. It is largely a matter of tone pictures. The most striking example of John Brown’s magnetism and imagination was his “heavenly march”; I shall never forget how it impressed me when I heard it. He opened his sermon in the usual way; then, proclaiming to his listeners that he was going to take them on the heavenly march, he seized the Bible
Negro was to refer to a man of color, usually thought of as “black,” brought on a slave ship to America, without possessions, without culture or aptitude, who had to learn laboriously the language of the country to which he had been brought, as well as the simplest tasks imposed upon him. The descendants of the slave labored under the disabilities which had been imposed upon him. They were at first denied the possession of human souls. They were thought of as being nearer to the beast than to