September 18, 2016

By Nancy Kuhl

The Beinecke Library’s new exhibition,  “Destined to Be Known: The James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection at 75,” explores, in part, the life and work of James Weldon Johnson; materials from Johnson’s literary archive (JWJ MSS 49) reveal aspects of his roles as civil rights activist, lyricist, man of letters, poet and writer, and diplomat. A man of letters and of the law, author of solemn lyrics and popular love songs, Johnson led a multi-faceted life and his career was one of constant reinvention. Among his many accomplishments, he was a field secretary and later executive secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the first African American executive of the group. Johnson opened NAACP offices throughout the United States and became the nation’s most outspoken critic of the practice of lynching.

These photos show another aspect of Johnson’s life–time spent with family and friends at Five Acres, his country home in Great Barrington, MA. These and other materials from Johnson’s archive can be seen online in the Beinecke’s Digital Library:  JWJ MSS 49 Digital Collection.

“Destined to Be Known: The James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection at 75” will be on view at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University (121 Wall Street) from Sept. 23 – Dec. 10.

Five Acres, Great Barrington, MA


James Weldon Johhnson and Walter White


Walter White, Grace Nail Johnson, and James Weldon Johhnson


Grace Nail Johnosn, Dorothey Peterson, & Frances Grant


James Weldon Johnosn at Five Acres, Photographed by Carl Van Vechten