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Quotes of the day: James Weldon Johnson

Published Tuesday, June 17, 2014 @ 12:24 AM EDT
Jun 17 2014

James Weldon Johnson (June 17, 1871 – June 26, 1938) was an American author, educator, lawyer, diplomat, songwriter, and civil rights activist. Johnson is best remembered for his leadership within the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), where he started working in 1917, being chosen as the first black executive secretary of the organization, effectively the operating officer. He served in that position from 1920 to 1930. He was first known for his writing, which includes poems, novels, and anthologies collecting both poems and spirituals of black culture. Johnson composed the lyrics of "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing," originally written for a celebration of Lincoln's birthday at Stanton School. This song later became known as the "Negro National Anthem," a title the NAACP adopted and promoted. (Click here for full Wikipedia article)


Every race and every nation should be judged by the best it has been able to produce, not by the worst.

I believe it to be a fact that the colored people of this country know and understand the white people better than the white people know and understand them.

I believe that the spirit in which American democracy was founded; though often turned aside and often thwarted; can never be defeated or destroyed but that ultimately it will triumph.

If American democracy cannot stand the test of giving to any citizen who measures up to the qualifications required of others the full rights and privileges of American citizenship, then we had just as well abandon that democracy in name as in deed.

If the Constitution of the United States cannot extend the arm of protection around the weakest and humblest of American citizens as around the strongest and proudest, then it is not worth the paper it is written on.

It is from the blues that all that may be called American music derives its most distinctive character.

It is strange how in some things honest people can be dishonest without the slightest compunction.

Labor is the fabled magician's wand, the philosophers stone, and the cap of good fortune.

Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty.
Let our rejoicing rise high as the listening skies;
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.

Nothing great or enduring, especially in music, has ever sprung full-fledged and unprecedented from the brain of any master; the best he gives to the world he gathers from the hearts of the people, and runs it through the alembic of his genius.

The final measure of the greatness of all peoples is the amount and standard of the literature and all they have produced. The world does not know that a people is great until that people produces great literature and art.

The South is in a state of superstition which makes it see ghosts and bogymen, ghosts which are the creation of its own mental processes.

The Southern whites are in many respects a great people. Looked at from a certain point of view, they are picturesque. If one will put oneself in a romantic frame of mind, one can admire their notions of chivalry and bravery and justice.

This land is ours by right of birth, This land is ours by right of toil; We helped to turn its virgin earth, Our sweat is in its fruitful soil.

What becomes of our democracy when such conditions of inequality as these can be brought about through chicanery, he open violation of the law and defiance of the Constitution?

Young man, young man, your arm's too short to box with God.