James Weldon Johnson (June 17, 1871 – June 26, 1938) had a birthday last Friday, which is still celebrated posthumously every year.

After receiving a degree from Atlanta University, Johnson returned home to Jacksonville, Florida in 1894 and became the principal of Stanton high school, named in honor of General Edwin M. Stanton, an outspoken abolitionist and Secretary of War under Lincoln.

Stanton, the only high school for African Americans in town, was built for the benefit of freed slaves and free African Americans. James Weldon Johnson served as principal for eight years and expanded the school from eight to twelve grades. He was a gifted educator who built the school into the monument of educational opportunity and advancement that it became.

In 1915 the Florida trustees, sued the Jacksonville school board to prevent the school from being replaced and torn down, and a settlement was reached. This was the first example of civil-rights litigation in Jacksonville and one of the earliest cases in the South.

The school is now on the National register of Historic Places.

James Weldon Johnson moved to New York City and became active in the Harlem Renaissance. He became a celebrated writer and civil rights activist, lawyer, U.S. consul in Venezuela and Nicaragua from 1906 to 1913, publisher, and executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the NAACP, from 1920 to 1930. He wrote poems, a novel, anthologies, and spirituals, most famously the Black National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing.

Proposed: Let’s all, no matter our race or nationality, draw inspiration from the lyrics of James Weldon Johnson’s song, which goes, in part, as follows:

Lift ev’ry voice and sing
Till earth and heav-en ring,
Ring with the har-mo-nies of lib-er-ty