Signature Programs of the James Weldon Johnson Institute

The James Weldon Johnson Medal
The Johnson Institute is privileged to serve as the custodian of the James Weldon Johnson Medal.  Established by Mrs. Ollie Jewel Simms Okala, friend of Mrs. Grace Nail Johnson, and Dr. Sondra Kathryn Wilson, historian, author and Executress of the Estate of Grace and James Weldon Johnson, the Johnson Medal has been awarded since 1992 under the auspices of the James Weldon Johnson Foundation. Commemorating the accomplishments and legacy of James Weldon Johnson, the Johnson Medal is awarded to individuals who have excelled in areas in which Johnson distinguished himself. In particular, these areas are civil rights, diplomacy, education, journalism, law, literature and music. In 2007, the Johnson Institute established the Humanitarian Award to honor individuals who have made significant contributions to humankind in the tradition of James Weldon Johnson. Past recipients of the Johnson Medal include Vernon Jordan, Wynton Marsalis, Jessye Norman, Harry Belafonte, Alice Walker, Gloria Steinem, Myrlie Evers Williams, Congressman John Lewis, Shirley Franklin, and E. Neville Isdell. The Johnson Institute will host the 14th annual Johnson Medal awards on November 8, 2010 at the Carter Center of Emory University. 

Public Reading of James Weldon Johnson’s God’s Trombones
James Weldon Johnson is the author of several books of poetry including his masterpiece God’s Trombones. Comprised of seven folk sermons, God’s Trombones is a tribute in verse to the oratory and power of the black folk preacher.  As a biennial event taking place on the campus of Emory University, the purpose of this public reading of God’s Trombones is to celebrate one of Johnson’s signal literary achievements and to bring this master work in American and African American poetry to new audiences. Participants in this reading of Johnson’s folk sermons will include the clergy based in Atlanta and across the nation.

The Spring Concert Series
The Johnson Institute hosts spring concerts celebrating the vibrant and evolving tradition of African American music. As a composer of light opera, a founding member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and a pioneering ethnomusicologist, Johnson contributed in significant ways to the documentation and development of African American music, in particular the spirituals, ragtime and jazz. 

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