Posts Tagged ‘Angelina Weld Grimké’

GeorgiaDouglasJohnson01

Georgia Douglas Johnson Residence

You never know what history you’re going to find when you’re riding a bike around this city.  During this ride, as I was riding in the Cardoza neighborhood near U Street in northwest D.C., I happened upon a historical marker on a cast iron fence that surrounded a grey townhouse at the end of the block at the corner of S and 15th Streets.  In turned out to have been placed there to mark the house, located at 1461 S Street (MAP), where Georgia Douglas Johnson once lived.  So naturally, I later researched her to find about the woman who once lived at that house, and was important enough to be recognized.

Georgia Douglas Johnson was an African American poet and playwright.  She is best known for her collections of poetry: “The Heart of a Woman” (1918) (see below), “Bronze” (1922), “An Autumn Love Cycle” (1928) and later, “Share My World” (1962).  In addition to poetry, Georgia also wrote over two dozen plays, and authored a newspaper column for over a decade.  Throughout her life she wrote 200 poems, 28 plays and 31 short stories. For her works, she was considered an important member of the “New Negro Movement,”  an intellectual, social, and artistic explosion centered in Harlem, New York, spanning the 1920s.  The New Nego Movement would later become known as the “Harlem Renaissance.”

Born in Atlanta, Georgia on September 10, 1877, Georgia Blanche Douglas Camp was born to Laura Douglas and George Camp.  Her mother was of African and Native American descent, and her father was of African-American and English heritage.  She grew up and received her education in Georgia, graduating from Atlanta University’s Normal School in 1896.  She then went on to become a teacher, but resigned to pursue her love of music, attending Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio.  After studying at Oberlin, she returned to Georgia and returned to the educational field.

She married Henry Lincoln Johnson, an Atlanta lawyer and prominent Republican Party member, on September 28, 1903.  Henry’s law career brought them to D.C. in 1910, when Henry received an appointment as the Recorder of Deeds from President William Howard Taft.   It was his career that kept them here as well.  So although she was considered an important member of the Harlem Renaissance, she was never a New York City resident, neither when the movement was in full swing in the 1920s or after.  Instead, she and her family continued to live here in D.C.

Georgia and her husband had two sons, Henry Lincoln Johnson, Jr., and Peter Douglas Johnson.  But by the time they became teenagers, her husband passed away, leaving her alone to raise their boys.  This began a difficult period in her life, as she struggled to raise two boys and provide for her family financially.  As a gesture of appreciation for her late husband’s loyalty and service, President Calvin Coolidge, a devoted member of the Republican Party, appointed Georgia the Commissioner of Conciliation, a position within the Department of Labor.  So throughout the last 50 years of her life, Georgia raised and supported her family alone, while continuing and expanding her writings.

Also after her husband’s death, Johnson began to host weekly “Saturday Salons” for friends and authors, including Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, Anne Spencer, Richard Bruce Nugent, Alain Locke, Jessie Redmon Fauset, Angelina Weld Grimké and Eulalie Spence, and many of the other noted women writers of what would become known as the Harlem Renaissance. The S Street House, which became known at that time as the “S Street Salon,” became a satellite of sorts for others who were part of the Harlem Renaissance to meet, socialize, discuss their work, and exchange ideas while they were visiting the nation’s segregated capital. Gloria called her home the “Half Way House” for friends traveling, and where those with no money and no place to stay would be welcome.

Gloria died in 1969 at the age of 85.  And as she lay in her deathbed, one of her sister playwrights and a former participant of the S Street Salon, sat by her bedside “stroking her hand and repeating the words, ‘Poet Georgia Douglas Johnson’.”


[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

The Heart of a Woman

The heart of a woman goes forth with the dawn,
As a lone bird, soft winging, so restlessly on,
Afar o’er life’s turrets and vales does it roam
In the wake of those echoes the heart calls home.
The heart of a woman falls back with the night,
And enters some alien cage in its plight,
And tries to forget it has dreamed of the stars
While it breaks, breaks, breaks on the sheltering bars.

Note:  The house has undergone numerous renovations over the years, during which previous owners divided it into flats, and later turned it into a group home.  It was recently renovated and restored.  And last year, the six-bedroom, six-bathroom, 4,100-square-foot property was on the market for $2.875 million.