The James Weldon Johnson Institute was established at Emory University in 2007. Named for James Weldon Johnson, author, composer, educator, lawyer, diplomat, and pioneering leader in the modern civil rights movement, the Johnson Institute is the first institute at Emory University established to honor the achievements of an American of African descent. As a project in the field of African American Studies central to the intellectual life of the University, the institute enjoys the support of the Department of African American Studies, Emory College of Arts and Sciences, the Graduate School, and the Office of the Provost. The Johnson Institute is a means by which Emory University seeks to actualize an important strategic theme set forth in the University’s strategic plan: Confronting the Human Condition and Human Experience. This theme is composed of three University-wide initiatives, one of them being Race and Difference. Through its sponsored research and public programming, the Johnson Institute is one site within Emory University where members of the Emory community are challenged to reflect upon and examine the shifting, complex meaning of rights, race, and difference in history, culture and civil society in both a national and global context.
"As a child of six I learned Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing created by James Weldon Johnson and his brother J. Rosamond Johnson. It became, along with Nkosi Sikelel’ i'Afrika, the internally possessed and fiercely treasured passion of my race consciousness. Of all the things that Johnson did with his illustrious life, none is more telling than that he and his brother crafted this song and gave it to the African American people. Out of sheer love. It is a song that knows and cherishes our beauty, our dignity, and our soul. This is high art, and it is also how African Americans perceived that art. Something useful and above all, moving, to the spirit. That there is an Institute at Emory that honors this compassionate, brilliant and multi-gifted ancestor is cause for thanksgiving and celebration. Because of the Institute we will be reminded of how lovingly we have been seen; and how truly grasped our struggle for freedom, peace and self-affirmation. We must never forget the words to Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing, the only National Anthem that affirms our belief system, and we must sing it, with the humility and pride of our ancestors, at every opportunity."
Writer, Activist and Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
The mission of the Johnson Institute is to foster new scholarship, teaching, and public dialogue that focuses upon the origins, evolution, and legacy of the modern civil rights movement from 1905 to the present and its points of intersection with other social justice movements such as the Women’s Movement, the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgendered Movement, and the Human Rights Movement. The Johnson Institute actualizes its mission through the Visiting Scholars Program, the core program of the institute. Supported by a generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Visiting Scholars Program supports new scholarship on the modern civil rights movement from 1905 to the present. With a thematic focus upon the modern civil rights movement, the Visiting Scholars Program is the first and only residential program of its kind in the nation.
As social advocacy was a defining feature of the life of James Weldon Johnson, so too is social advocacy a defining feature of the intellectual life of the institute. Capturing powerfully interrelated aspects of the life and scholarship of Johnson, the institute’s Social Advocacy Program is a resource for scholars and activists committed to social justice and reconciliation through nonviolent means. As the vision of the Johnson Institute is an open but applied mind serving all of humankind, the institute realizes this aspect of its vision through the sponsoring of workshops that provide participants with training in nonviolent direct action, the method championed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and inspired by the example of Mohandas K. Ghandi.
While the Johnson Institute is one of the premiere sites in the nation for the study of the modern civil rights movement, we also seek to foster a public dialogue on all aspects of African American life and culture within the expanding framework of the African diaspora. The richness and complexity of Johnson’s own life calls us to this vital and urgent work. In the tradition of call and response, a distinctive element in Black music and culture, the Johnson Institute cannot be what it aspires to be unless you participate. We wish to be in dialogue with you, and invite you to join our expanding circle of scholarship and social advocacy.
Rudolph P. Byrd, Director | Bio Goodrich C. White Professor of American Studies in the Graduate Institute of the Liberal Arts and the Department of African American Studies at Emory University
Calinda N. Lee Associate Director for Programs and Development Adjunct Faculty Member, Graduate Institute of the Liberal Arts
Educated at Spelman College, New York University and Emory University, Calinda N. Lee is the Assistant Director for Research and Development at the Johnson Institute. She is a student and scholar of the black experience, with particular attention to the lives of African American women in the 20th and 21st centuries. She is currently working on a book project entitled Creating the Pleasant View: The Impact of Gender, Race, and Class on Suburbanization, which investigates the role that African Americans had on creating suburban identities and communities in the post-WWII era. She is also especially interested in the ways that people of African descent relate and interpret their experiences for wider publics. This has led to extensive work in the field of public history in both the United States and abroad. At present, Dr. Lee is considering the efforts of community-based museums in both the United States and South Africa; she is focusing on institutions that seek to use historical inquiry and display to produce transformative social awareness and action. Her teaching areas include US urban and suburban history, African American experience, comparative Africana histories, women and gender, and public history, with particular emphasis on museums.
Dr. Lee joined the staff of the James Weldon Johnson Institute in the summer of 2008, after developing significant experience in both the academic and non-profit communities. Within the academy, Dr. Lee has held teaching and administrative positions at Loyola University Chicago and Spelman College. In the non-profit arena, she has worked with institutions such as the Albuquerque Museum, the Reginald Lewis Museum for African American Life and History, the African American Civil War Memorial, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, and the National Black Arts Festival. It is her deep belief that scholarship must be intimately linked with community service to reach its highest efficacy.
Dr. Lee is the author of several articles on African American history and has lectured extensively and broadly on this subject. She has also written and given workshops on nonprofit management issues, and participated in the planning and implementation of numerous museum exhibitions. She serves on the Council of the International Oral History Association, and also has served on leadership boards of both nonprofit organizations and scholarly associations.
Dorcas Ford Jones Program Administrative Assistant
Dorcas Ford Jones is the program administrative assistant for the Johnson Institute. Born and reared on Chicago’s Southside, Ms. Ford Jones earned a baccalaureate from Emory University where she majored in African American Studies. Prior to joining the staff of the Johnson Institute, she held an appointment as a program administrative assistant in the Candler School of Theology of Emory University in the Biblical Studies Department, the Black Church Studies Program and the Women in Theology Program. Ms. Ford Jones is also an instructor with the General Missionary Baptist Convention of Georgia’s State Congress of Christian Education.