Georgia Douglas Johnson

Ivor Griffiths, Poet, Novelist & Short Story Writer

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Georgia Blanche Douglas Camp Johnson better known as Georgia Douglas Johnson (September 10, 1877 - 1966) was an American poet.

She was born in Atlanta to Laura Jackson and Douglas Camp. Her father's father was a British citizen who immigrated to Marietta as a child with his wealthy parents. He died in his 30s, while enjoying a successful career as a musician. Johnson's mother was born in Marietta also. Her mother was a Native American who married an African-American bridge builder. Both died early and left Johnson's fourteen-year-old sister to raise her siblings. To support them, Johnson's mother worked as a maid. She married three times in all and gave Johnson two half brothers and a half sister.

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.

Johnson graduated from Atlanta University's Normal School in 1893. She taught school in Marietta for a time, then returned to Atlanta to work as an assistant principal. Johnson then traveled to Cleveland, Ohio, to study piano, harmony, and voice. From 1902 to 1903, she attended the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.

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).

It was during this period that Johnson began to write poems and stories. Johnson credits a poem written by William Stanley Braithwaite about a rose tended by a child in Brooklyn, New York, as her inspiration for her poetic output. She began to submit her poems to newspapers and small magazines. She published her first poem in 1916, when she was thirty-six. She published four volumes of poetry, beginning in 1918 with The Heart of a Woman. Johnson also wrote songs, taught music, and performed as an organist at her Congregational church during this period.

Upon accepting an appointment as the Recorder of Deeds from United States President William Howard Taft, Johnson's husband moved their family to Washington, D.C., where she would reside the last fifty years of her life. Johnson's husband died in 1925, and, 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.

Soon after her husband's death, Johnson hosted weekly Saturday-night open houses for other authors, including Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, Anne Spencer, Richard Bruce Nugent, Alain Locke, and Jessie Redmon Fauset—all major contributors to the New Negro Movement, which is better known today as the Harlem Renaissance.

She was a close friend of the writer Angelina Weld Grimke.

Major Works

  • The Heart of a Woman (1918)
  • Bronze (1922)
  • An Autumn Love Cycle (1928)
  • Share My World (1962)
  • Shockley, Ann Allen, Afro-American Women Writers 1746-1933: An Anthology and Critical Guide, New Haven, Connecticut: Meridian Books, 1989. ISBN 0-452-00981-2
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