James Weldon Johnson was born in Jacksonville, Florida, on 17th June, 1871. After obtaining degrees from Atlanta University and Columbia University he worked as a teacher in Jacksonville. He continued his studies and after reading law he became the first African American since the Civil War to be admitted to the bar in Florida.
Johnson also wrote poems and in 1900 his brother, John Rosamond Johnson, added music to Lift Every Voice and Sing. It was a great success and in 1901 the brothers moved to New York and over the next few years they wrote over 200 songs for Broadway musicals.
President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him as United States consul to Venezuela. Three years later was given a similar post in Nicaragua (1909-14). In 1916 Johnson became executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP). He had the post until 1929 when he was replaced as head of the NAACP by his protege, Walter Francis White.
Johnson wrote a large number of books including a novel about a light-skinned black man who poses as a white man, Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man (1912), Fifty Years and Other Poems (1917), God's Trombones (1927), an African American history of New York, Black Manhattan (1930), his autobiography, Along This Way (1933) and Selected Poems (1935).
James Weldon Johnson died in Wiscasset, Maine, on 26th June, 1938.