Georgia Douglas Johnson

Harlem Renaissance writer Georgia Douglas Johnson's poetry has been set to music by American composers H. Leslie Adams, Samuel Adler, Henry Burleigh, and Florence Price, among others.

Photo: Georgia Douglas Johnson, public domain

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    Born in Atlanta, Georgia, Georgia Douglas Johnson descended from African Americans, Native Americans and English settlers. In 1893, she received her undergraduate degree from Atlanta University, which was the first university in the South to grant bachelors degrees to African Americans. From 1902-1903, Johnson continued her studies at Oberlin Conservatory in Cleveland, Ohio where she studied voice, piano, counterpoint and harmony.

    Johnson settled with her husband in Washington D.C. in 1910 and worked as an assistant principal. She worked for the Department of Labor after the death of her husband to support herself and her two sons. In Washington, she established an important D. C. -based “Harlem Renaissance” artist salon: the S Street Salon (at her address 1461 S Street NW). Here she hosted writers including the likes of Jessie Fauset, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and Jean Toomer.

    In 1918, she released her first volume of poetry The Heart of a Woman and Other Poems. This work is characterized by verses of short and introspective lyrics utilizing traditional forms. She was critiqued in some circles for not including enough “racially-driven” material and that would later be an influence in her writing.

    In 1922, she penned Bronze: a Book of Verse that focused more on race issues and gender. W.E. Dubois wrote the foreword calling her poetry “sincere and true.” She went on to publish An Autumn Love in 1928 containing perhaps her most famous poem, “I Want to Die While You Love Me.” Her final book Share My World came in 1962 and was the shortest collection including published poems.

    In 1965, Atlanta University awarded her an honorary doctorate of literature degree. She passed away in Washington D.C. a year later.

    Johnson published four books of poetry, penned her husband’s biography, wrote short stories, a novel, solo poems, and wrote over 30 one-act plays; however, much of her work remains lost. It is believed that some of it was discarded after her death.

    –Christie Finn

    This profile was expanded by Bo Shimmin in 2021 as part of The Savvy Singer, an EXCEL Lab course at the University of Michigan, School of Music, Theatre, and Dance and a collaboration with the Hampsong Foundation via the Classic Song Research Initiative.


    Parascandola, Louis J. “Johnson, Georgia Douglas (Born 1877), Dramatists, Poets.” American National Biography Online. Oxford University Press, n.d. doi:10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.1602852.

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