On this day in 1871 the American lawyer, civil rights activist and poet James Weldon Johnson was born.
Johnson was also a diplomat who served as US consul in Venezuela and Nicaragua in the early part of the twentieth century. His poetry was well received and he played a leading part in the so called ‘Harlem Renaissance’ – his poem Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing was hugely popular among coloured people and became an anthem of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People) for which Johnson worked for many years.
He died in 1938 when his car was hit by a train on a crossing. Here is one of his sensitive and haunting poems The Glory of the Day Was in Her Face, that seems to stay in the memory after reading:
The glory of the day was in her face,
The beauty of the night was in her eyes.
And over all her loveliness, the grace
Of Morning blushing in the early skies.
And in her voice, the calling of the dove;
Like music of a sweet, melodious part.
And in her smile, the breaking light of love;
And all the gentle virtues in her heart.
And now the glorious day, the beauteous night,
The birds that signal to their mates at dawn,
To my dull ears, to my tear-blinded sight
Are one with all the dead, since she is gone.
Today I will remember that I can change my life – not by escaping to a new one that has the old me in it but by simply changing the old me into a new me.