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Writer, civil rights activist, lawyer, educator and Great Barrington resident James Weldon Johnson will be the subject of an online talk on Feb. 5. Photo from State Library and Archives of Florida​

Singing the Praises Of an Unsung Hero


In celebration of Black History Month, the Community Development Corporation of South Berkshire (CDCSB) will present a lecture that examines the life — and the historic home in Great Barrington, Mass. — of James Weldon Johnson on Friday, Feb. 5.

A native of Jacksonville, Fla., Johnson became famous during the Harlem Renaissance  for his own poems and novels, for his anthologies of poems and spirituals of Black Americans and for writing the lyrics to “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which has been called the Black National Anthem.

But the arts were only a small part of Johnson’s life. He was also a practicing attorney; a civil rights activist and a leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); and a professor at New York University and then the historically Black Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn.

Johnson was also a diplomat and served as the U.S. consul to Venezuela and Nicaragua under Theodore Roosevelt.

Johnson, who died in 1938, lived in the 1920s and 1930s in a tiny cabin in Great Barrington with his wife, civil rights activist Grace Nail Johnson.

The cabin is now owned by Rufus Jones, who has been meticulously restoring the century-old house with his wife, Jill Rosenberg-Jones. 

Jones is the founder and president of the James Weldon Johnson Foundation in Great Barrington and is on the Board of Directors of the CDCSB.

He will give the live, online presentation about Johnson’s life, work and home on Friday, Feb. 5, at 7 p.m. There will be time for questions and answers after the presentation.

“I recognize the deep connection between what the CDCSB is doing to provide safe and affordable homes in the south Berkshires with what Johnson and his wife were seeking and what we, as a family are seeking as African Americans in a predominantly white community,” Jones said. 

“It’s about the power of place, a place to raise our families in a safe and caring community. 

“This lecture explores why we’re here and asks the attendees to speak to the power of this place and our place within the community.”

The lecture is free. Reservations are required; to access the Zoom link, contact allison@cdcsb.org to reserve. Donations in support of the CDCSB’s work can be made at www.cdcsb.org/donate.

This is the first of what will be an ongoing series of talks sponsored by CDCSB. Learn more at www.cdcsb.org.

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