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This collection contains the poems written by James Weldon Johnson between 1899 and 1922. During this period of Johnson’s life, he worked as a Broadway songwriter with his brother John Rosamund in the early 1900s, served as a United States Consul in Venezuela from 1906 to 1908 and in Nicaragua from 1909 to 1913, and was appointed as the first executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1920. Johnson’s work arose in the milieu of the 1920s “Harlem Renaissance,” a term which Johnson personally refused to use, favoring “the flowering of Negro literature” instead.
Perhaps among the most notable works anthologized in this collection are the lyrics of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” a hymn originally written as a poem by Johnson in 1899. Having been dubbed “The Black National Anthem,” the hymn has taken on the significance of a rallying cry for black Americans and is a frequent inclusion in Christian hymnals.
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