Georgia Douglas Johnson

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Georgia Douglas Johnson

Georgia Blanche Douglas Camp Johnson, better known as Georgia Douglas Johnson (September 10, 1880 – May 14, 1966), was an American poet, one of the earliest African-American female playwrights,[1] and a member of the Harlem Renaissance.

Early life and education[edit]

Johnson was born in Atlanta 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]

Marriage and family[edit]

On September 28, 1903, Johnson married Henry Lincoln Johnson, an Atlanta lawyer and prominent Republican party member. They had two sons, Henry Lincoln Johnson, Jr., and Peter Douglas Johnson (d. 1957). Johnson claimed her husband was not very supportive of her writing, preferring her be to a home-maker instead.[2] Her husband's job as a lawyer forced them to live in Washington, D.C., away from the literary center in Harlem. He died in 1925 when she was aged 45 and she was left to take care of their sons, who were teenagers at the time.[6] Even though her husband often criticized her career as a writer, she published two poems dedicated to him: "The Heart of a Woman" (1918) and "Bronze" (1922).[7] Johnson lived in Washington for the last 50 years of her life. After her husband died, she struggled at first with some temporary jobs. As a gesture of appreciation for her husband's loyalty and service to the Republican party, President Calvin Coolidge appointed Johnson as the Commissioner of Conciliation in the Department of Labor.


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.


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 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).[8] 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.[6] 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. [9]

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.[7] 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 ten 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, which it never has.  This lesser known play premiered in Xoregos Performing Company's program: Songs of the Harlem River in NYC's Dream Up Festival, August 30-September 6, 2015. Songs of the Harlem River will open the Langston Hughes Festival in Queens, NY 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.[10] 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]


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.[3]

She was especially close to the writer Angelina Grimké. 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]

She died in Washington, D.C., in 1966.

In September 2009, it was announced that Johnson would be inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame.[11]

Major works[edit]




  1. ^ a b c d e ed.; with an introduction by Judith L. Stephens (2005). The Plays of Georgia Douglas Johnson: From the New Negro Renaissance to the Civil Rights Movement. Urbana [u.a.]: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0252073339.  Cite uses deprecated parameter |coauthors= (help)
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Women Writers and Artists of Color: Georgia Douglas Johnson", VG/Voices From the Gaps, University of Minnesota. Retrieved October 7, 2013.
  3. ^ a b c d "Georgia Johnson." New Georgia Encyclopedia. Retrieved October 7, 2013.
  4. ^ a b "Georgia Johnson." Retrieved October 7, 2013.
  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. ^ a b William L. Andrews (ed.) (1997). The Oxford Companion to African American Literature. New York [u.a.]: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195065107. 
  7. ^ a b Page, edited by Yolanda Williams (2007). Encyclopedia of African American Women Writers. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0313334293. 
  8. ^ Macki, Adrienne. "The Plays of Georgia Douglas Johnson: From the New Negro Renaissance to the Civil Rights Movement". New School Libraries. Journal Theater History Studies.Volume 28. page 163. Retrieved 20 September 2016. 
  9. ^ Macki, Adrienne. "The Plays of Georgia Douglas Johnson: From the New Negro Renaissance to the Civil Rights Movement". New School Libraries. Journal Theater History Studies. Volume 28. Page 163. Retrieved 20 September 2016. 
  10. ^ White, Walter (January 18, 1937). "Anti Lynching Bill Play" (Letter to Georgia Douglas Johnson). 
  11. ^ "Writers hall picks four inductees". Online Athens. Athens Banner Herald. September 19, 2009. Retrieved September 20, 2009. 
  12. ^ "Georgia and Henry Lincoln Douglass, African-American Heritage Trail." Retrieved February 6, 2013.
  13. ^ Hull, Gloria T. (1987). Color, Sex & Poetry: Three Women Writers of the Harlem Renaissance. Bloomington [u.a.]: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0253204305. 


  • 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]