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Born James William Johnson in Jacksonville, Florida, on 17 June 1871 — he changed his middle name to Weldon in 1913 — the future teacher, poet, songwriter, and civil rights activist was the son of a headwaiter and the first female black public school teacher in Florida, both of whom had roots in Nassau, Bahamas. The second of three children, Johnson’s interests in reading and music were encouraged by his parents. After graduating from the school where his mother taught, Johnson spent time with relatives in Nassau and in New York before continuing with his education.

He also was a member of Phi Beta Sigma Incorporated.

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