Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

A Memorial Is Needed for J.W. Johnson

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

A Memorial Is Needed for J.W. Johnson

Article excerpt

Jacksonville history was celebrated on a hot Friday afternoon in February.

The celebration took place in a vacant lot next to the Salvation Army building in LaVilla, within sight of the Prime Osborn Convention Center.

The celebration had two purposes, to celebrate native son James Weldon Johnson and the song he and his brother, Rosamond, wrote, "Lift Every Voice and Sing."

That song, written for Stanton students, spread throughout the country.

In poetic verse it tells the story of the African-American story of this nation. One must remember it was being written in a time that the freedoms won during the Civil War were being turned back with Jim Crow laws that returned blacks in the South to second-class citizens.

Johnson knew that if he wanted all the freedoms he deserved, had to leave his hometown.

In the process, he became a Broadway songwriter, a diplomat, U.S. consul to Nicaragua and Venezuela.

As one of the early leaders of the NAACP, he campaigned against lynchings, the domestic terrorism that plagued the country.

Johnson's achievements are unmatched in Jacksonville history because he had to hurdle so many roadblocks.

After graduating from the Stanton school, he graduated from Atlanta College and returned to Stanton as a teacher and then principal. He added high school classes to Stanton.

He passed the Florida Bar in an open exam before a state judge when blacks weren't admitted to law school.

He started his own newspaper, the Daily American, in 1895 because promotions were scarce for blacks when he worked at The Florida Times-Union.

"Lift Every Voice and Sing" is well known throughout America. The fact that he hails from Jacksonville, less so.

A group of Jacksonville civic activists led by former state Sen. Tony Hill, former School Board member Constance Hall and Lloyd Washington of the Durkeeville Historical Society are seeking to right this wrong by turning Johnson's Jacksonville birth home site in LaVilla into a memorial.

A unique sculptural design creates an image of the home that once stood there. Markers will describe the history.

The location, convenient to the interstate and the Prime Osborn Convention Center, would make this memorial a good place for tourism. …

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