Was James Weldon Johnson a Little Bit ‘Bougie?’

“As I look back now, I can see that I was a perfect little aristocrat.”

James Weldon Johnson, author, educator, civil rights activist and Florida native.

The ‘So-What?!’ Significance:¬†None needed. James Weldon Johnson was aristocratic as a bona-fide member of The Talented Tenth.

James Weldon Johnson Knew the Power of Being Young, Gifted and Black

“You are young, gifted and Black. We must begin to tell our young. There’s a world waiting for you. Yours is the quest that’s just begun.”

James Weldon Johnson, author, civil rights, activist, composer, diplomat, educator and Florida native.

The ‘So-What?!’ Significance: The words resonate. They did when James Weldon Johnson first uttered them. They did when Nina Simone and poet Weldon Irvine recorded those same words in the late 1960s in the hit song “To Be Young, Gifted and Black,” and the words should still have meaning today.

The Making of James Weldon Johnson

 

“I can believe that I did astonish my audience, for I never played the piano like a child, that is in a ‘one-two-three’style with accelerated motion. Neither did I depend upon mere brilliancy of technique, a trick by which children often surprise their listeners, but I always tried to interpret a piece of music; I always played with feeling.”

Source: The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson Library of America Paperback Classics, 2011 pages 18 and 19

James Weldon Johnson’s Observation on Negro Dialect

“I had read some Negro dialect and heard snatches of it on my journey down from Washington; but here I heard it in all of its fullness and freedom. I was particularly struck by the way it was punctuated by such exclamatory phrases as ‘Lawd a mussy!’ ‘Gwan man!’ ‘Bless my soul!’ ‘Look heath chile!’¬†

These people talked and laughed without restraint. In fact, they talked straight from their lungs, and laughed from the pits of their stomachs. And this hearty laughter was often justified by their droll humor of some remark. I paused long enough to hear one man say to another, ‘W’at’s de mattah wid you an’ yo’ fr’en’ Sam?’ and the other came back in a flash, ‘Ma fr’en? He my fr’en? Man! I go to his funeral jes de same as I’d go to a minstrel show.’ I have since learned that this ability to laugh heartily is, in part, the salvation of the American Negro; it does much to keep him from going the way of the Indian.”

Source: The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson Library of America Paperback Classics, 2011, p. 36

Who Really Knows White People?

“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.” — James Weldon Johnson

Source: The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson; First Library of American Paperback Classics, 2011 p. 16

‘Oops!’ Being Mistaken for White

“In thus traveling about through the country, I was sometimes amused on arriving at some little railroad station town to be taken for and treated as a white man, and six hours later, when it was learned that I was stopping at the house of the colored preacher or school teacher, to note the attitude of the whole town change.”

Source: The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson Library of America Paperback Classics, 2004, p. 104-105