September 26, 2021

Georgia Douglas Johnson – Prolific Black Female Writer & Playwright During Harlem Renaissance

Once upon a time in Black Entrepreneur History lived an African American woman named Georgia Douglas Johnson who was one of the first prolific Black female poets and playwrights of the Harlem Renaissance era.


Georgia Douglas Johnson’s Early Life, Education & Marriage

Georgia Douglas Camp Johnson was born in Atlanta, Georgia to parents James and Laura Douglass. They lived on North Butler Street in Fulton County. Her father worked as a drayman, and her mother was a house keeper[1].

A drayman is someone who delivers beer from a brewery.

As far as Georgia’s education, she enrolled and graduated from Atlanta University Normal School (College) and later she attended the Oberlin Conservatory as well as the Cleveland College of Music [2].

She married in 1903 on September 28th to a man named Henry Lincoln Johnson also of Atlanta who was a well known, successful and leading lawyer in Georgia[3]. Within five years of marriage had two children, Henry Johnson Jr. and Peter B. Johnson[4].

At the time of her marriage, she was a school teacher at the Summer Hill School at 149 North Butler Street in the area where they lived – Summer Hill[5] The people who lived in this Summer Hill community were Black families who were formerly enslaved and Jewish people, therefore, it was a multicultural community.

Eventually the two left Atlanta for Washington D.C. and it was there that she worked as a filing clerk after her husband passed away. Although she was left raising two sons, her heart was drawn heavily to writing, her first love, and so she finally started writing and having her works published.

Georgia Douglas Johnson’s Career in Poetry and as a Playwright

Georgia Douglas Johnson’s career in poetry and plays was remarkable. Although not much attention is paid to her contributions to African American literature, she made her mark during the Harlem Renaissance. Her work is described as poignant and even tragic as it represented the true life of African Americans, all the way to injustices and murders such as lynchings. One of the poems that stood out was her poem titled Cosmopolite, which was published in her collection of poetry titled Bronze, and described as a “stifled cry of the colored race in America[6]“.

Her volumes of poetry are listed below while many of the poems that she’d written were lost or disposed after her death.

  • The Heart of a Woman, and other Poems (1918)
  • Bronze (a book of verse) (1922)
  • An Autumn Love Cycle (1928)
  • Share My World (1962)
  • The Ordeal

She was also a very talented playwright, she had a difficult time getting her plays approved for publication due to not only racism but the fact that she was a woman, sexism. As a matter of fact, women writers of the past many times would go by a pen name, or pseudonym. The fact that she was an African American woman made it even more difficult in a world of literature dominated by men.

She wrote 28 plays, and she was one of the first recognized prolific African American female playwrights during her time. Her plays are listed below:

  • A Sunday Morning in the South (there is a black church version and a white church version) 1925
  • Blue Blood
  • Paupaulekejo
  • Plumes
  • Safe
  • Blue Eyed Black Boy
  • Frederick Douglass
  • Starting Point
  • William and Ellen Craft
  • And Yet They Paused
  • A Bill To Be Passed

She received the Doctor of Literature degree in 1965 as a result of her being a credit to her native city of Atlanta and her alma mater Atlanta University as well as her race and humanity [7] only one year before she passed away.

Georgia Douglas Johnson’s Death

She passed away in May of 1966 in Washington DC.


Sources

  • Year: 1880; Census Place: Atlanta, Fulton, Georgia; Roll: 148; Page: 396B; Enumeration District: 099
  • https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/georgia-douglas-johnson
  • The Colored American (Washington, District of Columbia)10 Oct 1903, Sat Page 4
  • Year: 1910; Census Place: Atlanta Ward 4, Fulton, Georgia; Roll: T624_191; Page: 15A; Enumeration District: 0072; FHL microfilm: 1374204
  • U.S., City Directories, 1822-1995 for Georgia B Douglas Georgia Atlanta 1900 Atlanta, Georgia, City Directory, 1900
  • The Bee (Danville, Virginia) 19 Jun 1923, Tue Page 14.
  • The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) 01 Jun 1965, Tue Page 8