African American Studies at Beinecke Library

James Weldon Johnson Fellowship

Posted in African American Studies at Yale, announcements, Beinecke Collections by beineckepoetry on April 21, 2008

The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library is pleased to announce the establishment of an annual James Weldon Johnson Fellowship in African American Studies. This fellowship is designed to permit outstanding scholars to devote a full academic year in residence at Yale to research and writing in connection with the James Weldon Johnson Collection in the Beinecke Library.

Founded in 1941 by Carl Van Vechten, the James Weldon Johnson Memorial collection stands as a memorial to Dr. James Weldon Johnson and celebrates the accomplishments of African American writers and artists, beginning with those of the Harlem Renaissance. Grace Nail Johnson contributed her husband’s papers, leading the way for gifts of papers from Dr. W. E. B. DuBois, Walter White and Poppy Cannon White, Dorothy Peterson, Chester Himes, and Langston Hughes. The collection also contains the papers of Richard Wright and Jean Toomer, as well as smaller groups of manuscripts and correspondence of such writers as Arna Bontemps, Countee Cullen, Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay, and Wallace Thurman.

For the 2008-2009 academic year Emily Bernard, Associate Professor of English and ALANA U. S. Ethnic Studies at the University of Vermont, has been appointed the Beinecke Library James Weldon Johnson Fellow. Professor Bernard has edited two books. Remember Me to Harlem: The Letters of Langston Hughes and Carl Van Vechten (2001) was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Some of My Best Friends: Writers on Interracial Friendship (2004) was chosen by the New York Public Library for its Book for the Teen Age 2006 list. Her essay “Teaching the N Word” appeared in Best American Essays 2006. During the 2008-09 academic year, she will be conducting research for an upcoming book tentatively entitled, White Shadows: Carl Van Vechten and the Harlem Renaissance. The book will cast new light on the dynamic between Van Vechten, a controversial white patron of African American arts communities, and his black friends and protégés during the 1920s and beyond, including Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Nella Larsen. White Shadows is scheduled to be published by Yale University Press in 2009.

Thanks to the generosity and cooperation of the Yale African American Studies Department, Professor Bernard will occupy an office with that department and will be able to participate in its wide range of scholarly activities.

Image: Photograph of James Weldon Johnson at his desk; Inaugural James Weldon Johnson Fellow Emily Bernard.

More information: James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection at Beinecke Library; African American Studies at Yale; Emily Bernard, UVM Faculty Page

Questions Answered

Posted in Uncategorized by beineckepoetry on April 16, 2008

The Beinecke Library is pleased to announce its new staffed reference desk. Researchers and students are welcome to visit the desk to consult with Beinecke staff about the library’s collections. Librarians will be available at the reference desk Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to noon and Tuesday and Thursday afternoons from 3-5 p.m. Additional hours will be added in the coming weeks. Email reference queries can be directed to:

For additional information please contact Research Librarian Eva Guggemos at 203-432-6436.

Lift Every Voice and Sing

Posted in Uncategorized by beineckepoetry on April 9, 2008

In Battell, 1,000 voices lifted in tribute to MLK

Reported by Robert Kruse; published Monday, April 7, 2008, Yale Daily News
Photographs by Michael Marsland
For images and audio from the event see: Concert Slide Show and Audio from the Yale Office of Public Affairs

The words of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” also known as the Black National Anthem, resounded throughout Battell Chapel in two performances Friday honoring the legacy of James Weldon Johnson, the hymn’s composer, on the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.

The event, which featured 1,000 singing New Haven elementary and middle-school children during the morning performance, was organized by Willie Ruff, professor at the Yale School of Music, in an attempt to honor and publicize the James Weldon Johnson Collection of Negro Arts and Letters housed in Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Johnson was a poet, songwriter, teacher, lawyer and human-rights advocate during the early 20th century who became a prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance. Besides Johnson’s personal writings, the collection features handwritten manuscripts from Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston.

At Monday morning’s ceremony, Ruff recounted how Johnson and his brother, John Rosamond Johnson, originally wrote and composed “Lift Every Voice and Sing” to commemorate Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. The song was first performed in 1900 by 500 school children in Jacksonville, Fl., where Johnson was a teacher. In memory of King, Ruff tried to recreate that occasion — only with double the number of students — on Friday.

“It was a transforming experience,” Ruff said. “I have thought about this a long time. What it would feel like, sound like?”

Organized in conjunction with New Haven public schools, the 1,000 students at the morning event sang the anthem three times in a row and again at the end of the festivities. The song and event resonated with many of the children.

“We [first] learned the song in fourth grade,” said Andrea Salazar, an eighth-grade student at Nathan Hale School. “It’s talking about the hard times and bringing out a better future.”

Besides singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the event also featured a reading of King’s “Where Do We Go From Here?” speech, which mentions Johnson; a reading of Johnson’s “God’s Trombones”; an interpretive dance by dancer and choreographer Carmen de Lavallade; and musical performances by The Heritage Chorale and The Mitchell-Ruff Duo.

About 200 people attended the afternoon performance.

Ruff described singing the song in school while growing up and its effect on him. Today the song has become a staple of hymnals in many non-black Protestant churches.

“The song has become a song for all people with hope, dignity and aspirations,” Ruff said.

At the end of the night, the impact on the audience members of the music and Johnson’s history was apparent in the re-singing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” New Haven resident Kevin DeShields said.

“When we first came together, the song was pretty faint, but by the end of the journey, after hearing the history [and singing it again], you could feel the transformation that it had on people,” he said.