JAMES WELDON B JOHNSON
Born on June 17, 1871, in Jacksonville, Florida, James Weldon Johnson was a civil rights activist, writer, composer, politician, educator and lawyer, as well as one of the leading figures in the creation and development of the Harlem Renaissance. After graduating from Atlanta University, Johnson worked as a principal in a grammar school, founded a newspaper, The Daily American, and became the first African American to pass the Florida Bar. His published works include The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912) and God’s Trombones (1927). Johnson died on June 26, 1938, in Wiscasset, Maine.
Early Life and Career
James Weldon Johnson was born in Jacksonville, Florida, on June 17, 1871, the son of a freeborn Virginian father and a Bahamian mother, and was raised without a sense of limitations amid a society focused on segregating African Americans. After graduating from Atlanta University, Johnson was hired as a principal in a grammar school. While serving in this position, in 1895, he founded The Daily American newspaper. In 1897, Johnson became the first African American to pass the bar exam in Florida.
Not long after, in 1900, James and his brother, John, wrote the song « Lift Every Voice and Sing, » which would later become the official anthem of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. (The Johnson brothers would go on to write more than 200 songs for the Broadway musical stage.) Johnson then moved to New York and studied literature at Columbia University, where he met other African-American artists.
NAACP Career and Published Works
In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed James Weldon Johnson to diplomatic positions in Venezuela and Nicaragua. Upon his return in 1914, Johnson became involved with the NAACP, and by 1920, was serving as chief executive of the organization. Also during this period, he became known as one of the leading figures in the creation and development of the African-American artistic community known as the Harlem Renaissance.
Johnson published hundreds of stories and poems during his lifetime. He also produced works such as God’s Trombones (1927), a collection that celebrates the African-American experience in the rural South and elsewhere, and the novel The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912)—making him the first black-American author to treat Harlem and Atlanta as subjects in fiction. Based, in part, on Johnson’s own life, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man was published anonymously in 1912, but did not attract attention until Johnson re-issued it under his own name in 1927.
Later Years and Legacy
After retiring from the NAACP in 1930, Johnson devoted the rest of his life to writing. In 1934, he became the first African-American professor at New York University.
Johnson died in a car accident in Wiscasset, Maine, on June 26, 1938, at the age of 67. More than 2,000 people attended his funeral in Harlem.
Langston Hughes wrote from 1926 to 1967. In that time he wrote more than 60 books, including poems, novels, short stories, plays, children’s poetry, musicals, operas, and autobiographies. He was the first African American to support himself as a writer, and he wrote from his own experience.
Langston Hughes, whose full name was James Mercer Langston Hughes, was born in 1902 in Joplin, Missouri. He was the only son of James Nathaniel Hughes and Carrie Mercer Langston. His parents divorced when he was young and his father moved to Mexico. Because his mother traveled a lot to find work and was often absent, his grandmother raised Hughes until he was 12. His childhood was lonely and he often occupied himself with books. It was Hughes’s grandmother, a great storyteller, who transferred to him her love of literature and the importance of becoming educated.
In 1914 he moved to Lincoln, Illinois, to live with his mother and her new husband. It was here that he started writing poetry he wrote his first poem in the eighth grade. A year later the family relocated to Cleveland, Ohio. Despite all the moving around, Hughes was a good student and excelled in his studies. He was also good looking and popular with the other students, during his senior year at Central High School in Cleveland, Ohio, he was voted class poet and editor of the yearbook.
After high school, Hughes traveled in Mexico, Europe, and Africa sometimes by working on freighters. By 1924 he had settled in Harlem, New York, and was an important figure during the Harlem Renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance was an African-American cultural movement that focused on literature, music, theater, art, and politics. One of his favorite pastimes was to sit in clubs and listen to the blues as he wrote his poetry.Hughes died on May 22, 1967, in New York, NY.
When the author of the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe, visitedAbraham Lincoln at the White House in December 1862, Lincoln reportedly greeted her by saying, “Is this the little woman who made this great war?”
Lincoln may never have actually uttered that line. Yet it has often been quoted to demonstrate the importance of Stowe’s enormously popular novel as a cause of the Civil War. Was a novel with political and moral overtones actually responsible for the outbreak of war? Perhaps.
After the election of Lincoln in 1860 on the anti-slavery Republican ticket, a number of southern states seceded from the Union, and the secession crisis triggered theCivil War. And there’s no denying that the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin had helped opposition to slavery come into the political mainstream in the North.
So while it would be an exaggeration to say that Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel directly caused the Civil War, there’s no doubt that Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by helping to shape public opinion in the 1850s, was indeed a factor leading to the war.
Harriett Beecher Stowe Wrote a Novel With a Purpose
In writing Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriett Beecher Stowe had a deliberate goal: she wanted to portray the evils of slavery so a large part of the American public could easily relate to the issue. There had been anabolitionist press operating in the United States for decades, publishing passionate works advocating the elimination of slavery. But abolitionists were often stigmatized as extremists operating on the fringe of society.
By crafting a work of fiction that general readers could relate to, and populating it with characters both sympathetic and villainous, Harriet Beecher Stowe was able to deliver an extremely powerful message.
Her characters, white and black, in the North and in the South, all grapple with the institution of slavery. There are portrayals of how slaves are treated by their masters, some of whom are kindly and some of whom are sadistic.
And the plot of Stowe’s novel portrays how slavery operated as a business. The buying and selling of humans provide major turns in the plot, and there is a particular focus on how the traffic in slaves separated families.
he action in the book begins with a plantation owner mired in debt making arrangements to sell some of his slaves. As the plot proceeds, some escaped slaves risk their lives trying to get to Canada. And the slave Uncle Tom, a noble character in the novel, is sold repeatedly, eventually falling into the hands of Simon Legree, a notorious drunkard and sadist.
While the plot of the book kept readers in the 1850s turning pages, Stowe was delivering some very forthright political ideas. For instance, Stowe was appalled by the Fugitive Slave Act which had been passed as part of the Compromise of 1850. And in the novel it is made clear that all Americans, not just those in the South, are thereby responsible for the evil institution of slavery.
The Controversy Over Uncle Tom’s Cabin Was Enormous
Uncle Tom’s Cabin was first published in installments in a magazine. When it appeared as a book in 1852, it sold 300,000 copies in the first year of publication. It continued to sell throughout the 1850s, and its fame spread to other countries. Editions in Britain and in Europe spread the story.
In America in the 1850s it was common for a family to gather at night in the parlor and read Uncle Tom’s Cabin aloud. Yet in some quarters the book was considered highly controversial.
In the South, as might be expected, it was bitterly denounced, and in some states it was actually illegal to possess a copy of the book. In southern newspapers Harriet Beecher Stowe was regularly portrayed as a liar and a villain, and feelings about her book no doubt helped to harden feelings against the North.
One reason why the book resonated so deeply with Americans is because characters and incidents in the book seemed real. There was a reason for that.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin Was Based On Actual Incidents
Harriet Beecher Stowe had lived in southern Ohio in the 1830s and 1840s, and had come into contact withabolitionists and former slaves. She heard a number of stories about life in slavery as well as some harrowing escape stories.
towe always claimed that the main characters in Uncle Tom’s Cabin were not based on specific people, yet she did document that many incidents in the book were based in fact. While it’s not widely remembered today, Stowe published a closely related book, The Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, in 1853, a year after the novel’s publication, to showcase some of the factual background behind her fictional narrative.
The Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin provides copious excerpts from published slave narratives as well as stories that Stowe had personally heard of life under slavery. While she was obviously careful not to reveal everything she might have known about people who were still actively helping slaves to escape, The Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin did amount to a 500-page indictment of American slavery.
The Impact of Uncle Tom’s Cabin Was Enormous
As Uncle Tom’s Cabin became the most discussed work of fiction in the United States, there’s no doubt that the novel influenced feelings about slavery. With readers relating very deeply to the characters, the issue of slavery was transformed from an abstract concern to something very personal and emotional.
There is little doubt that Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel helped to move anti-slavery feeling in the North beyond the relatively small circle of abolitionists to a more general audience. And that helped to create the political climate for the election of 1860, and the candidacy of Abraham Lincoln, whose anti-slavery views had been publicized in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates and also in his address at Cooper Union in New York City.
So while it would be simplification to say that Harriet Beecher Stowe and her novel caused the Civil War, her writing definitely delivered the political impact she intended.
Incidentally, on January 1, 1863, Stowe attended a concert in Boston held to celebrate the Emancipation Proclamation, which President Lincoln would sign that night. The crowd, which contained notable abolitionists, chanted her name, and she waved to them from the balcony. The crowd that night in Boston firmly believed that Harriet Beecher Stowe had played a major role in the battle to end slavery in America.
The American Civil War, widely known in the United States as the Civil War was fought from 1861 to 1865 to determine the survival of the Union or independence for the Confederacy.
Among the 34 states in January 1861, seven Southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America. The Confederacy, or the South. Although they claimed thirteen states and additional western territories, the Confederacy was never diplomatically recognized by a foreign country. The states that remained loyal and did not declare secession were known as the Union or the North.
The war had its origin in the fractious issue of slavery, especially the extension of slavery into the western territories. After four years of combat, which left over 600,000 Union and Confederate soldiers dead and destroyed much of the South’s infrastructure, the Confederacy collapsed and slavery was abolished. Then began the Reconstruction and the processes of restoring national unity and guaranteeing civil rights to the freed slaves.
In the 1860 presidential election, Republicans, led by Abraham Lincoln, supported banning slavery in all the U.S. territories, something the Southern states viewed as a violation of their constitutional rights and as being part of a plan to eventually abolish slavery.
Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896), American author, social reformer, and philanthropist wrote one of the classic works in the American literary canon,Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852).
The daughter of an eminent New England preacher, Stowe was born into a family of eccentric, intelligent people. As a child, she learned Latin and wrote a children’s geography book, both before she was ten years old. Throughout her life, she remained deeply involved in religious movements, feminist causes, and the most divisive political and moral issue of her time: the abolition of slavery.
Stowe grew up in the Northeast but lived for a time in Cincinnati, which enabled her to see both sides of the slavery debate without losing her abolitionist’s perspective. Cincinnati was evenly split for and against abolition, and Stowe wrote satirical pieces on the subject for several local papers there. She often wrote pieces under pseudonyms and with contrasting styles, and one can see a similar attention to voice in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, in which dialects and patterns of speech contrast among characters. Though Stowe absorbed a great deal of information about slavery during her Cincinnati years, she nonetheless conducted extensive research before writing Uncle Tom’s Cabin. She wrote to Frederick Douglass and others for help in creating a realistic picture of slavery in the Deep South. Her black cook and household servants also helped by telling her stories of their slave days.
Stowe’s main goal with Uncle Tom’s Cabin was to convince her large Northern readership of the necessity of ending slavery. Most immediately, the novel served as a response to the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which made it illegal to give aid or assistance to a runaway slave. Under this legislation, Southern slaves who escaped to the North had to flee to Canada in order to find real freedom. With her book, Stowe created a sort of exposé that revealed the horrors of Southern slavery to people in the North. Her radical position on race relations, though, was informed by a deep religiosity. Stowe continually emphasizes the importance of Christian love in eradicating oppression. She also works in her feminist beliefs, showing women as equals to men in intelligence, bravery, and spiritual strength. Indeed, women dominate the book’s moral code, proving vital advisors to their husbands, who often need help in seeing through convention and popular opinion.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published in episodes in the National Era in 1851 and 1852, then published in its entirety on March 20, 1852. It sold 10,000 copies in its first week and 300,000 by the end of the year, astronomical numbers for the mid-nineteenth century. Today, analysis of both the book’s conception and reception proves helpful in our understanding of the Civil War era. Within the text itself, the reader finds insights into the mind of a Christian, feminist abolitionist. For example, in the arguments Stowe uses, the reader receives a glimpse into the details of the slavery debate. Looking beyond the text to its impact on its society, the reader gains an understanding of the historical forces contributing to the outbreak of war.
Selected poems by Langston Hughes
I read in the papers about the
I heard on the radio about the
I seen folks talking about the
Lord, I’ve been a-waitin’ for the
Down South in Dixie the only trains I see’s
Got a Jim-Crow car set aside for me.
I hope there ain’t no Jim Crow on the Freedom Train,
No back door entrance to the Freedom Train,
No signs FOR COLORED on the Freedom Train,
No WHITE FOLKS ONLY on the Freedom Train.
I’m gonna check up on this
Who’s the engineer on the Freedom Train?
Can a coal-black man drive the Freedom Train?
Or am I still a porter on the Freedom Train?
Is there ballot boxes on the Freedom Train?
When it stops in Mississippi, will it be made plain
Everybody’s got a right to board the Freedom Train?
Somebody tell me about this
When my grandmother in Atlanta, 83 and black,
Gets in line to see the Freedom,
Will some white man yell, Get back!
A Negro’s got no business on the Freedom Track!
Mister, I thought it were the
Her grandson’s name was Jimmy. He died in Anzio
He died for real. It warn’t no show.
The freedom that they carryin’ on this Freedom Train,
Is it for real – or just a show again?
Jimmy wants to know about the
Will his Freedom Train come zoomin’ down the track
Gleamin’ in the sunlight for white and black?
Not stoppin’ at no stations marked COLORED nor WHITE,
Just stoppin’ in the fields in the broad daylight,
Stoppin’ in the country in the wide-open air
Where there never was a Jim Crow signs nowhere,
The G.I.’s who fought will say, We wanted it so!
Black men and white will say, Ain’t it fine?
At home they got a train that’s yours and mine!
Then I’ll shout, Glory for the
I’ll holler, Blow your whistle,
Thank God-A-Mighty! Here’s the
Selected poems of Langston Hughes,
Vintage Books, 1990
The East St. Louis Riot, or rather massacre, of Monday [July] 2nd, will go down in history as one of the bloodiest outrages against mankind for which any class of people could be held guilty. (Hear! hear.) This is no time for fine words, but a time to lift one’s voice against the savagery of a people who claim to be the dispensers of democracy. (cheers) I do not know what special meaning the people who slaughtered the Negroes of East. St. Louis have for democracy of which they are the custodians, but I do know that it has no literal meaning for me as used and applied by these same lawless people. (hear! hear!). America, that has been ringing the bells of the world, proclaiming to the nations and the peoples thereof that she has democracy to give to all and sundry, America that has denounced Germany for the deportations of the Belgians into Germany, America that has arraigned Turkey at the bar of public opinion and public justice against the massacres of the Armenians, has herself no satisfaction to give 12,000,000 of her own citizens except the satisfaction of a farcical inquiry that will end where it begun, over the brutal murder of men, women and children for no other reason than that they are black people seeking an industrial chance in a country that they have laboured for three hundred years to make great. (cheers) For three hundred years the Negroes of America have given their life blood to make the Republic the first among the nations of the world, and all along this time there has never been even one year of justice but on the contrary a continuous round of oppression. At one time it was slavery, at another time lynching and burning, and up to date it is wholesome butchering. This is a crime against the laws of humanity; it is a crime against the laws of the nation, it is a crime against Nature, and a crime against the God of all mankind. (cheers)
Somewhere in the book of life we are told that « God created of one blood all nations of men to dwell on the face of the earth, » and after mankind, in scattered groups, had for thousands of years lived in their own spheres without trouble or molestation, promoting in their own way the course of peace and happiness, the white race, a party of this group, went out to enslave, conquer and rob the rights of the Peaceful. Through that system of enslavement, conquest and robbery, the black man was taken into this country where he was forced against his will to labor for the enrichment of the white man. Millions of our people in the early days of slavery gave their lives that America might live. From the labours of these people the country grew in power, until her wealth to-day is computed above that of any two nations. With all the service that the Negro gave he is still a despised creature in the eye of the white people, for if he were not to them despised, the 900,000,000 of whites of this country would never allow such outrages as the East St. Louis massacre to perpetuate themselves without enforcing the law which provides justice for every man be he black or white.
The black man has always trusted the white man. He has always clung to him as a brother man, ever willing to do service for him, to help him, to succor him, yet with all this the white man has never found it convenient to live up to the principles of brotherhood which he himself teaches to all mankind. (hear! hear!) From the time of Livingstone to the present day the black man has always been kind to the white man…
Two months ago I was in New Orleans completing a lecture tour of the United States, and on the 26th of April Mayor Fred W. Moflman arrived in the city on a trip from St. Louis. In New Orleans he was met by Mayor Behrman and the New Orleans Board of Trade. For months the Farmers of Louisiana were frightened out of their wits over the everyday migration of Negroes from great farming centers of the State. They wrote to the papers, they appealed to the Governor, the Mayor and the Legislature and the Board of Trade to stop the Negroes going away, but up to the 26th of April nothing was done to stop the people excepting the Railway Companies promising to use certain restraint on the rush of people obtaining passages on the trains by Railway orders sent to them from the North. At this time Mayor Mollman arrived and the Farmers and Board of Trade met him and asked his help in discouraging the Negroes from going North and especially to East St. Louis. In an interview given out to the New Orleans press he said that the Negroes from the South were reaching St. Louis at the rate of 2,000 per week, and that they were creating a problem there…
Excerpts from Robert A. Hill, ed. The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, Volume I, 1826 – August 1919. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1983.
Instructions: Read this extract and sum it up.
BEECHER STOWE H, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 1852 ; p.60-63
The Husband and Father
Mrs. Shelby had gone on her visit, and Eliza stood in the verandah, rather dejectedly looking after the retreating carriage, when a hand was laid on her shoulder. She turned,and a bright smile lighted up her fine eyes.
« George, is it you? How you frightened me! Well; I am so glad you ‘s come! Missis is gone to spend the afternoon; so come into my little room, and we’ll have the time all toourselves. »
Saying this, she drew him into a neat little apartment opening on the verandah, where she generally sat at her sewing, within call of her mistress.
« How glad I am! — why don’t you smile? — and look at Harry — how he grows. » The boy stood shyly regarding his father through his curls, holding close to the skirts of his mother’s dress. « Isn’t he beautiful? » said Eliza, lifting his long curls and kissing him.
« I wish he’d never been born! » said George, bitterly. « I wish I’d never been born myself! »
Surprised and frightened, Eliza sat down, leaned her head on her husband’s shoulder, and burst into tears.
« There now, Eliza, it’s too bad for me to make you feel so, poor girl! » said he, fondly; « it’s too bad: O, how I wish you never had seen me — you might have been happy! »
« George! George! how can you talk so? What dreadful thing has happened, or is going to happen? I’m sure we’ve been very happy, till lately. »
« So we have, dear, » said George. Then drawing his child on his knee, he gazed intently on his glorious dark eyes, and passed his hands through his long curls.
« Just like you, Eliza; and you are the handsomest woman I ever saw, and the best one I ever wish to see; but, oh, I wish I’d never seen you, nor you me! »
« O, George, how can you! »
« Yes, Eliza, it’s all misery, misery, misery! My life is bitter as wormwood; the very life is burning out of me. I’m a poor, miserable, forlorn drudge; I shall only drag you down with me, that’s all. What’s the use of our trying to do anything, trying to know anything, trying to be anything? What’s the use of living? I wish I was dead! »
« O, now, dear George, that is really wicked! I know how you feel about losing your place in the factory, and you have a hard master; but pray be patient, and perhaps something — «
« Patient! » said he, interrupting her; « haven’t I been patient? Did I say a word when he came and took me away, for no earthly reason, from the place where everybody was kind to me? I’d paid him truly every cent of my earnings, — and they all say I worked well. »
« Well, it is dreadful, » said Eliza; « but, after all, he is your master, you know. »
« My master! and who made him my master? That’s what I think of — what right has he to me? I’m a man as much as he is. I’m a better man than he is. I know more about business than he does; I am a better manager than he is; I can read better than he can; I can write a better hand, — and I’ve learned it all myself, and no thanks to him, — I’ve learned it in spite of him; and now what right has he to make a dray-horse of me? – to take me from things I can do, and do better than he can, and put me to work that any horse can do? He tries to do it; he says he’ll bring me down and humble me, and he puts me to just the hardest, meanest and dirtiest work, on purpose! »
« O, George! George! you frighten me! Why, I never heard you talk so; I’m afraid you’ll do something dreadful. I don’t wonder at your feelings, at all; but oh, do be careful — do, do — for my sake — for Harry’s! » « I have been careful, and I have been patient, but it’s growing worse and worse; flesh and blood can’t bear it any longer; — every chance he can get to insult and torment me, he takes. I thought I could do my work well, and keep on quiet, and have some time to read and learn out of work hours; but the more he see I can do, the more he loads on.
He says that though I don’t say anything, he sees I’ve got the devil in me, and he means to bring it out; and one of these days it will come out in a way that he won’t like, or I’m mistaken! »
« O dear! what shall we do? » said Eliza, mournfully.
« It was only yesterday, » said George, « as I was busy loading stones into a cart, that young Mas’r Tom stood there, slashing his whip so near the horse that the creature was frightened. I asked him to stop, as pleasant as I could, — he just kept right on. I begged him again, and then he turned on me, and began striking me. I held his hand, and then he screamed and kicked and ran to his father, and told him that I was fighting him. He came in a rage, and said he’d teach me who was my master; and he tied me to a tree, and cut switches for young master, and told him that he might whip me till he was tired; — and he did do it! If I don’t make him remember it, some time! » and the brow of the young man grew dark, and his eyes burned with an expression that made his young wife tremble. « Who made this man my master? That’s what I want to know! » he said.
« Well, » said Eliza, mournfully, « I always thought that I must obey my master and mistress, or I couldn’t be a Christian. »
« There is some sense in it, in your case; they have brought you up like a child, fed you, clothed you, indulged you, and taught you, so that you have a good education; that is some reason why they should claim you. But I have been kicked and cuffed and sworn at, and at the best only let alone; and what do I owe? I’ve paid for all my keeping a hundred times over. I won’t bear it. No, I won’t! » he said, clenching his hand with a fierce frown.
Eliza trembled, and was silent. She had never seen her husband in this mood before; and her gentle system of ethics seemed to bend like a reed in the surges of such passions.
« You know poor little Carlo, that you gave me, » added George; « the creature has been about all the comfort that I’ve had. He has slept with me nights, and followed me around days, and kind o’ looked at me as if he understood how I felt. Well, the other day I was just feeding him with a few old scraps I picked up by the kitchen door, and Mas’r came along, and said I was feeding him up at his expense, and that he couldn’t afford to have every nigger keeping his dog, and ordered me to tie a stone to his neck and throw him in the pond. »
« O, George, you didn’t do it! »
« Do it? not I! — but he did. Mas’r and Tom pelted the poor drowning creature with stones. Poor thing! he looked at me so mournful, as if he wondered why I didn’t save him. I had to take a flogging because I wouldn’t do it myself. I don’t care. Mas’r will find out that I’m one that whipping won’t tame. My day will come yet, if he don’t look out. »
« What are you going to do? O, George, don’t do anything wicked; if you only trust in
God, and try to do right, he’ll deliver you. »
« I an’t a Christian like you, Eliza; my heart’s full of bitterness; I can’t trust in God. Why does he let things be so? »
« O, George, we must have faith. Mistress says that when all things go wrong to us, we must believe that God is doing the very best. »
« That’s easy to say for people that are sitting on their sofas and riding in their carriages; but let ’em be where I am, I guess it would come some harder. I wish I could be good; but my heart burns, and can’t be reconciled, anyhow. You couldn’t in my place,
— you can’t now, if I tell you all I’ve got to say. You don’t know the whole yet. »