Everything in Jacksonville, Florida should be named after native son James Weldon Johnson.
Well, maybe not everything–that could get confusing. But as it stands, the only thing we Jacksonvillians have bearing that great man’s name is a middle school, and an obscure plaque somewhere downtown–which is great. People love plaques.
James Weldon Johnson Middle School feeds Stanton College Preparatory School, an excellent school that JWJ served as principal of from 1894 to 1902. In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that I’m a proud graduate of the Stanton School (go Blue Devils!). Under JWJ’s plan, Stanton became the first black high school in Florida. In his autobiography, Along This Way, JWJ discloses the genius of his plans for educational reform: he simply asked the eighth grade class to come back again, partitioned off some rooms, and based the new high school program on the curriculum of his alma mater Atlanta University (now known as Clark). The real genius of this is that he didn’t bother to ask the all-white board of education, who undoubtedly would’ve found some way to say “no.” He just did it, and then let the board come see what he had done. Brilliant.
Why isn’t there a single prominent statue of JWJ in Jacksonville? Or a library named after him? Or even a street? It seems to me that the average Jacksonvillian simply isn’t aware of JWJ, or has only a passing knowledge of who he was, not realizing that he was born and raised here.
1. I will continue writing about James Weldon Johnson on this blog.
2. I challenge every Jacksonvillian to read a book by James Weldon Johnson.
3. Maybe if we read his books, we’ll come to feel his genius, celebrate the fact that he is from our hometown, and honor him appropriately.