Georgia Douglas Johnson

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Georgia Douglas Johnson
Georgia Douglas Johnson.jpg
Born (1880-09-10)September 10, 1880
Atlanta, Georgia
Died May 15, 1966(1966-05-15) (aged 85)
Washington, D.C.
Occupation Poet, one of the earliest African-American female playwrights, music teacher, school principal
Residence Rome, Georgia, Atlanta, Washington, D.C.
Nationality American
Education Atlanta University's Normal School
Alma mater Oberlin Conservatory of Music
Literary movement Harlem Renaissance, anti-lynching movement, S Street Salon
Spouse Henry Lincoln Johnson
Children Two sons
Relatives Parents, Laura Douglas and George Camp

Georgia Blanche Douglas Camp Johnson, better known as Georgia Douglas Johnson (September 10, 1880 – May 15, 1966), was an African-American poet, one of the earliest African-American female playwrights,[1] and an important participant in the Harlem Renaissance.

Early life[edit]

Johnson was born in Atlanta, Georgia, to Laura Douglas and George Camp[2] (her mother's last name is listed in other sources as Jackson).[3][4] Her mother was of African and Native American descent, and her father was of African-American and English heritage.[4]

Much of Johnson's childhood was spent in Rome, Georgia. She received her education in both Rome and Atlanta, where she excelled in reading, recitations and physical education. She also taught herself to play the violin, which developed into a lifelong love of music that appears in her plays, which make distinct use of sacred music.[5]

Johnson graduated from Atlanta University's Normal School 1896.[3] She taught school in Marietta, Georgia. She left her teaching career to pursue her interest in music in 1902, attending Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio. She wrote music from 1898 until 1959. After studying in Oberlin, Johnson returned to Atlanta, where she became assistant principal in a public school.[1]

Kinship and monogamy[edit]

On September 28, 1903, Johnson married Henry Lincoln Johnson, an Atlanta lawyer and prominent Republican party member.[citation needed] Douglas and Johnson had two sons, Henry Lincoln Johnson, Jr., and Peter Douglas Johnson (d. 1957). The law career Douglas's husband operated, heavily influenced the settling in Washington, D.C., far away from the Harlem literary center she devoted the majority of her life to. This affected the marital life of Douglas, for her husband had a tendency to be impractical and unsupportive of her literary passion, by insisting for her to devote more time on becoming homemaker than on publishing poetry, which she later dedicated two literary acclaimed poems "The Heart of a Woman" (1918) and "Bronze" (1922) in his honor.[6] Douglas was 45 when her husband passed in 1925, singlehandedly leaving the raising of her two teenage sons solely by herself.[7] Years following the passing of her husband, Douglas struggled to maintain the ability to keep a sufficient paying position, so throughout the last 50 years of her life, Johnson lived and worked to be able to financially survive while supporting her children's growth within the streets of Washington D.C. As a last farewell gesture of her late husband's loyalty and service, President Calvin Coolidge a devoted member of the Republican party, appointed Johnson the Commissioner of Conciliation[8] position within the Department of Labor.

Career[edit]

The former Washington, D.C., residence of Georgia Douglas Johnson and site of the S Street Salon, an important literary salon of the Harlem Renaissance

Johnson's husband accepted an appointment as the Recorder of Deeds from United States President William Howard Taft, and the family moved to Washington, D.C., in 1910.[3] It was during this period that Johnson began to write poems and stories. She credited a poem written by William Stanley Braithwaite about a rose tended by a child, as her inspiration for her poems. Johnson also wrote songs, plays, short stories, taught music, and performed as an organist at her Congregational church.

Poetry[edit]

She began to submit poems to newspapers and small magazines. Her first poem was published in 1905 in the literary journal The Voice of the Negro, though her first collection of poems was not published until 1916.[2] She published four volumes of poetry, beginning in 1916 with The Heart of a Woman. Her poems are often described as feminine and "ladylike" or "raceless" and use titles such a "Faith", "Youth", and "Joy".[5] Her poems appeared in multiple issues of The Crisis, a journal published by the NAACP and founded by W. E. B. Du Bois. "Calling Dreams" was published with the January 1920 edition, "Treasure" in July 1922, and "To Your Eyes" in November 1924. Johnson traveled extensively in the 1920s to give poetry readings. In 1934 she lost her job in the Department of Labor and returned to supporting herself with temporary clerical work.[9]

Heart of a Woman[edit]

Johnson was well recognized by her poems in The Heart of a Woman, published in 1918. She explores meaningful themes for women during The Harlem Renaissance such as isolation, loneliness, pain, love and the role of being a woman during this time. Other poems in this collection consist of motherly concerns.

The Heart of a Woman

The heart of a woman goes forth with the dawn,
As a lone bird, soft winging, so restlessly on,
Afar o’er life’s turrets and vales does it roam
In the wake of those echoes the heart calls home.
The heart of a woman falls back with the night,
And enters some alien cage in its plight,
And tries to forget it has dreamed of the stars
While it breaks, breaks, breaks on the sheltering bars.

Bronze[edit]

Johnson's Bronze had a popular theme of racial issues during this time as well as Johnson's continuous theme of motherhood and being a woman of color. Many similar themes as her previous work. In the foreword of Bronze she said: "Those who know what it means to be a colored woman in 1922- know it not so much in fact as in feeling...."[1]

Calling Dreams

The right to make my dreams come true,
I ask, nay, I demand of life;
Nor shall fate's deadly contraband
Impede my steps, nor countermand;
Too long my heart against the ground
Has beat the dusty years around;
And now at length I rise! I wake!
And stride into the morning break!

Plays[edit]

Johnson was a well-known figure in the national black theatre movement and was an important "cultural sponsor" in the early twentieth century, assembling and inspiring the intellectuals and artists who generated the next group of black theatre and rising education (16).[1] Johnson wrote about 28 plays. Plumes was published under the pen name John Temple.[2] Many of her plays were never published because of her gender and race.[1] Gloria Hull is credited with the rediscovery of many of Johnson's plays.[7] The 28 plays that she wrote were divided into four sections: "Primitive Life Plays", "Plays of Average Negro Life", "Lynching Plays" and "Radio Plays". Several of her plays are lost. The first section, "Primitive Life Plays", features Blue Blood and Plumes, which were published and produced during Johnson's lifetime.[1]

In 1926, Johnson's play "Blue Blood" won honorable mention in the Opportunity drama contest. Her play "Plumes" also won in the same competition in 1927.[10] Johnson was one of the only women whose work was published in Alain Locke's anthology Plays of Negro Life: A Source-Book of Native American Drama. Johnson's typescripts for 10 of her plays are in collections in academic institutions.[1] Blue-Eyed Black Boy is a 1930 lynching genre play written to convince Congress to pass anti-lynching laws. This lesser known play premiered in Xoregos Performing Company's program: "Songs of the Harlem River" in New York City's Dream Up Festival, from August 30 to September 6, 2015. "Songs of the Harlem River" also opened the Langston Hughes Festival in Queens, New York, on February 13, 2016.

Anti-lynching activism[edit]

Although Johnson spoke out against race inequity as a whole, she is more known as a key advocate in the anti-lynching movement as well as a pioneering member of the lynching drama tradition. Her activism is primarily expressed through her plays, first appearing in the play Sunday Morning in the South. This outspoken, dramatic writing about racial violence is sometimes credited with her obscurity as a playwright since such topics were not considered appropriate for a woman at that time.[5] Unlike many African-American playwrights, Johnson refused to give her plays a happy ending since she did not feel it was a realistic outcome. As a result, Johnson had difficulty getting plays published.[2] Though she was involved in the NAACP's anti-lynching campaigns of 1936 and 1938,[5] the NAACP refused to produce many of her plays claiming they gave a feeling of hopelessness.[11] Johnson was also a member of the Writers League Against Lynching, which included Countée Cullen, James Weldon Johnson, Jessie Fauset, and Alain Locke. The organization sought a federal anti-lynching bill.[5]

Georgia Douglas Johnson is promoted by Gloria Hull in her book, "Color, Sex, and Poetry", as she argues that Johnson's work ought to be placed in an exceedingly distinguished place within the Harlem Renaissance and for African-American women writers, "they desperately need and deserve long overdue scholarly attention". Hull, through a black feminist critical perspective, appointed herself the task of informing those within the dark of the very fact that African-American women, like Georgia Douglas Johnson, are being excluded from being thought of as key voices of the Harlem Renaissance. Johnson's anti-lynching activism was expressed through her plays like "The Ordeal" that was printed in Alain Locke's anthology: The New Negro. Her poems describe African Americans and their mental attitude once having faced prejudice towards them and the way they modify it. Isolationism and anti-feminist prejudice however prevented the sturdy African-American women like Johnson from getting their remembrance and impact with such contributions.[12]

S Street Salon[edit]

Soon after her husband's death, Johnson began to host what became 40 years of weekly "Saturday Salons" for friends and authors, including Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, Anne Spencer, Richard Bruce Nugent, Alain Locke, Jessie Redmon Fauset, Angelina Weld Grimké and Eulalie Spence — all major contributors to the New Negro Movement, which is better known today as the Harlem Renaissance.[13] Georgia Douglas Johnson's house at 1461 South Street NW would later become known as the S Street Salon. The salon was a meeting place for writers in Washington, D.C. during the Harlem Renaissance.[9][14] Johnson's S Street Salon helped to nurture and sustain creativity by providing a place for African-American artists to meet, socialize, discuss their work, and exchange ideas. According to Akasha Gloria Hull, Johnson's role in creating a place for black artists to nurture their creativity made the movement a national one because she work outside of Harlem and therefore made a trust for intercity connections.[13] Johnson called her home the "Half Way House" for friends traveling, and a place where they "could freely discuss politics and personal opinions" and where those with no money and no place to stay would be welcome.[2] Although black men were allowed to attend, it mostly consisted of black women such as May Miller, Marita Bonner, Mary Burrill, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Zora Neale Hurston, and Angelina Weld Grimke.[13] Johnson was especially close to the European-American writer Angelina Grimké. This Salon was known to have discussions on issues such as lynching, women's rights, and the problems facing African-American families.[15] They became known as the "Saturday Nighters."[16]

Weekly Column[edit]

Georgia Douglas Johnson began a weekly column named “Homely Philosophy” that was published in twenty different newspapers such as the New York News, Chicago Defender, Philadelphia Tribune, and Pittsburgh Courier and ran from 1926 to 1932 (citation). Some of the topics she wrote on were considered inspirational and spiritual for her audience including “Hunch”, “Magnetic Personality”and “The Blessing of Work”. Some of her work was perceived[by whom?] to help people cope with the hardships of the Great Depression.

One of the articles that focused on spirituality was “Our Fourth Eye”, in which she wrote that “closing one’s natural eyes” to look with the “eyes of one's mind”. She explains that the “fourth eye” assists with viewing the world in this way. Another essay of Johnson’s, “Hunch” discusses the idea that people have hunches, or intuition, in their lives. She goes on to explain that individuals must not quiet these hunches because they are their “sixth sense- your instruction”.[17]

Legacy[edit]

When she died in Washington, D.C., in 1966, one of her sister playwrights and a former participant of the S Street Salon, sat by her bedside "stroking her hand and repeating the words, 'Poet Georgia Douglas Johnson'".[13]

Johnson received an honorary doctorate in literature from Atlanta University in 1965.[9] In September 2009, it was announced that Johnson would be inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame.[18]

Major works[edit]

Poems

Plays

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Stephens, Judith L. (ed.) The Plays of Georgia Douglas Johnson: From the New Negro Renaissance to the Civil Rights Movement. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2005. ISBN 0252073339.
  2. ^ a b c d e Atkins, Alyssa, Theresa Crushshon and Chanida Phaengdara. "Voices from the Gaps: Georgia Douglas Johnson." University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy, December 15, 2015. Retrieved April 17, 2017.
  3. ^ a b c Palumbo, Carmine D. "Georgia Johnson." New Georgia Encyclopedia, September 17, 2003. Retrieved October 7, 2013.
  4. ^ a b Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Georgia Douglas Johnson: Harlem Renaissance Writer", thoughtco.com, January 7, 2015. Retrieved April 17, 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d e Stevens, Judith L. (Spring–Summer 2005). "Art, Activism, and Uncompromising Attitude in Georgia Douglas Johnson's Lynching Plays". African American Review. 39 (1/2): 87–102. 
  6. ^ Johnson, Georgia Douglas Camp (1922). "Bronze : a book of verses". Boston : B.J. Brimmer Co. 
  7. ^ a b William L. Andrews (ed.) (1997). The Oxford Companion to African American Literature. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195065107. 
  8. ^ "Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), South Africa | Access". www.accessfacility.org. 
  9. ^ a b c "Georgia Douglas Johnson". Poetry Foundation. 2017-05-28. Retrieved 2017-05-29. 
  10. ^ Williams, Yolanda (ed.) (2007). Encyclopedia of African American Women Writers. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0313334293. 
  11. ^ Prentiss, Craig R. "Letter from Walter White to Georgia Douglas Johnson, January 18, 1937", Staging Faith: Religion and African American Theater from the Harlem Renaissance to World War II. New York: New York University Press, 2014. ISBN 0814708080. Google Books. Retrieved April 19, 2017.
  12. ^ a b Hull, Gloria T. (1987). Color, Sex & Poetry: Three Women Writers of the Harlem Renaissance. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0253204305. 
  13. ^ a b c d Murphy, Brenda (1999-06-28). The Cambridge Companion to American Women Playwrights. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521576802. 
  14. ^ Orton, Kathy (2018-06-01). "A poet's rowhouse in Northwest Washington has a renaissance". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2018-06-04. 
  15. ^ Lindsey, Treva B. (2017-04-15). Colored No More: Reinventing Black Womanhood in Washington,. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 9780252099571. 
  16. ^ "National Register of Historic Places Registration Form". 
  17. ^ Hull, Gloria T. (1987). Color, Sex & Poetry: Three Women Writers of the Harlem Renaissance. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. pp. 185, 186. ISBN 0253349745. 
  18. ^ "Writers hall picks four inductees". Athens Banner Herald. September 19, 2009. Retrieved September 20, 2009. 
  19. ^ "Georgia and Henry Lincoln Douglass, African-American Heritage Trail." culturaltourismdc.org. Retrieved April 17, 2017.
  20. ^ Locke, Alain (1999). The New Negro: Voices of the Harlem Renaissance. Touchstone. 

References[edit]

  • Shockley, Ann Allen, Afro-American Women Writers 1746-1933: An Anthology and Critical Guide, New Haven, Connecticut: Meridian Books, 1989.

Further reading[edit]

  • Harold Bloom, ed., Black American Women Poets and Dramatists (New York: Chelsea House, 1996).
  • Countee Cullen, ed., Caroling Dusk: An Anthology of Verse by Negro Poets (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1927).
  • Gloria T. Hull, Color, Sex, and Poetry: Three Women Writers of the Harlem Renaissance (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987).
  • Judith Stephens, "'And Yet They Paused' and 'A Bill to Be Passed': Newly Recovered Lynching Dramas by Georgia Douglas Johnson", African American Review 33 (Autumn 1999): 519-22.
  • Judith Stephens, The Plays of Georgia Douglas Johnson:From The New Negro Renaissance to the Civil Rights Movement (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2006)
  • C. C. O'Brien, Cosmopolitanism in Georgia Douglas Johnson's Anti-Lynching Literature, African American Review, Vol. 38, No. 4 (Winter 2004), pp. 571–587 (St. Louis University)

External links[edit]