Representative Al Lawson Jr, (D-FL) has introduced H.R. 7496, the James Weldon Johnson Commemorative Coin Act, into the House of Representatives for voting and hopeful passage into law. The bill, the latest coin legislation to be launched, was introduced on April 7, 2022 to the House by Representative Lawson.
James Weldon Johnson was a towering figure in the African-American community, founding the first African-American newspaper in Florida and in 1897, became the first African-American to pass the Florida Bar since the Reconstruction Era ended.
Here are a list of some of Mr. Johnson’s accomplishments from the proposed H.R. 7496 bill.
(1) James Weldon Johnson was born on June 17, 1871, in Jacksonville, Florida, to a Bahamian mother, Helen Louise Dillet, and African-American father, James Johnson. He had a younger brother, John Rosamund Johnson. His mother had a large influence on his interest in literature and music.
(2) At the age of 16, James Weldon Johnson enrolled at Atlanta University, now Clark Atlanta University, a historically Black college, and graduated in 1894.
(3) James Weldon Johnson returned to Jacksonville following his graduation, where he served as principal of the Stanton School. He expanded the school to include Florida’s first high school for African Americans, which opened in 1898.
(4) In 1895, James Weldon Johnson started the Daily American, Florida’s first African-American newspaper.
(5) During this period, James Weldon Johnson was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1897. He became the first African American to pass the Florida Bar since the Reconstruction Era ended.
(6) In 1899, James Weldon Johnson wrote the poem “Lift Every Voice and Sing” to honor Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. His brother, John Rosamund Johnson, composed the music to turn it into a song. In 1919, the National Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) designated the song as the “Negro National Anthem”.
(7) As part of the Great Migration, James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamund Johnson moved to Harlem, New York. They became composers for Broadway shows and later became integral figures of the Harlem Renaissance.
(8) After winning the election, in 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed James Weldon Johnson as U.S. Consul in Venezuela. In 1909, he was appointed as U.S. Consul in Nicaragua by President William Taft.
(9) Following his diplomatic service, James Weldon Johnson became a field secretary for the NAACP in 1916. In 1920, he became the first African-American executive secretary for the NAACP, where he helped increase membership, create new chapters, and organize civil rights movements across the country.
(10) James Weldon Johnson represented the NAACP as the chief Congressional lobbyist to encourage passage of the Representative Leonidas Dyer anti-lynching bill. This bill went on to pass the House of Representatives in 1922, but failed in the Senate due to the filibuster.
(11) In 1930, after serving 10 years in the NAACP, James Weldon Johnson accepted an offer to become the Spence Chair of Creative Literature and Writing at Fisk University, a historically Black college in Nashville, Tennessee.
(12) In 1934, James Weldon Johnson was hired as the first Black professor at New York University, where he taught Creative Literature and Education.
(13) James Weldon Johnson was an accomplished novelist and poet. He released several poetry collections and novels, among his most popular pieces of literature were God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse and The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man.
(14) James Weldon Johnson passed away suddenly in 1938. His funeral was held in Harlem, New York, where over 2,000 people attended.
(15) James Weldon Johnson’s excellence revolutionized literature, music, education, politics, and law. His fearlessness to fight for equality created pathways for African Americans to proudly pursue their aspirations.H.R. 7496
You can read the full text of the bill at this link.
As for the coinage proposed, it is calling for the coins to be minted in 2024 with the standard coins for most commemoratives to be released. That is:
- 50,000 $5 Gold Coins
- 400,000 $1 Silver Dollar Coins
- 750,000 Half Dollar Clad Coins
H.R. 7496 has now been referred to the House Committee on Financial Services which is standard practice after a bill has been introduced into the House. It unlikely to see much action until after the mid-term elections in November.