Image of James Weldon Johnson in foreground with trees, water and a rising sun in the background. Text reads, “Celebrate James Weldon Johnson Day!

Maine's First Annual James Weldon Johnson Day Observance & Juneteenth Weekend

Thursday, June 2, 2022 - 11:11

A barrier-breaking renaissance man, James Weldon Johnson was a novelist and poet, a songwriter and journalist, an educator and activist, and a diplomat with legal expertise. He was a prominent leader in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) during its early years and an outstanding voice in combatting racism in our country. The first African American to serve as the organization’s executive secretary, he led the fight against racial discrimination and segregation. As the organizer of a silent march in 1917, he led more than 10,000 African Americans down New York City's Fifth Avenue to protest lynching.

Johnson is known in particular for writing the lyrics to “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” a powerful song of enormous importance to Black Americans for more than a century. Set to music by his brother, it was first performed in 1900 by a 500-voice children’s choir to mark Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. 

James Weldon Johnson may not be a name that is known in every household. But in the moment in which we are currently living, when the struggle for racial equity and equal justice for all is at the center of our state and national dialogue, his legacy is ubiquitous.

In 1938, Johnson’s life was cut short. He and his wife, Grace Nail Johnson, had been visiting friends near their Dark Harbor home. When passing through Wiscasset, their car was struck by a train, killing this national figure and grievously injuring his wife. More than 2,000 mourners attended his Harlem memorial service. 

This first annual state observance grew out of the collaborative efforts of organizers in Johnson’s birth state of Florida, Wiscasset residents, and others here in Maine who wish to honor Johnson, memorialize his civil rights activism, and pursue his work to end racism.

Contact permanentcommission.ritp@maine.gov for more information about these events.

 

Friday, June 17, 2022 | Wiscasset, Maine

James Weldon Johnson Day Commemoration

Morning program at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church

10:30 am

Welcome by Representative Rachel Talbot Ross

10:40 am

Remarks by state officials

10:50 am

Remarks by representatives from the Town of Wiscasset

11:00 am

Remarks by K. Melanie Edwards, grand-niece of J.W. Johnson 

11:10 am

Original poetry by Portland Poet Laureate Maya Williams

11:20 am

Performance of J.W. Johnson’s poetry by Linda Ashe-Ford

11:30 am

Chorus: “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and other hymns

11:40 am

Prayer led by Reverend Kenneth Lewis

Midday program at the Wiscasset Town Common

12:00 pm

Unveiling of a James Weldon Johnson memorial project at the Town Common

12:30 pm

Lunch at the Wiscasset Library

Afternoon program at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church

2:00 pm

Documentary preview and panel discussion about the life and legacy of James Weldon Johnson with filmmaker Sonya Dunn, former Florida state Senator Tony Hill, J.W. Johnson’s grand-niece Melanie Edwards, and Jacksonville cultural consultant Tony Allegretti

Space in the church is limited. Registration is required. Get your free tickets here.

 

Saturday, June 18, 2022 | Bath, Maine

Recovering Maine’s Black History

1:00 pm

A panel discussion on “Recovering Maine’s Black History” moderated by Representative Allison Hepler will take place Saturday, June 18, 2022 from 1:00 – 3:00 pm at Maine Maritime Museum’s Long Reach Hall in Bath. 

This event is hosted by the Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous, and Tribal Populations in the context of the James Weldon Johnson and Juneteenth observances. 

Community researchers and citizen historians Bob Greene, Vana Carmona, Kathy Ostrander Roberts, James Tanzer, and Lisa Simpson Lutts will share with the public what they are uncovering about the lives and contributions of people of African heritage in communities from Castine to Kennebunk and well beyond.

Registration is required. Get your free tickets here.

 

Sunday, June 19, 2022 | Westbrook, Maine

Westbrook Juneteenth Freedom Celebration

Location: Riverbank Park, Westbrook

Time: 1:00 - 3:00 pm

Join One Westbrook and the City of Westbrook for an afternoon of music, speakers, art, and history, commemorating Juneteenth at Riverbank Park in Westbrook, Maine, on Sunday, June 19th from 1-3pm.

- Speakers include Rep Rachel Talbot Ross, Mayor Foley and Historian Bob Greene

- Art projects led by Westbrook High Students include hair beading, step dance classes, face painting and more

- Music provided by Westbrook High School Chamber Singers and 107.9 WJZP, Portland’s only minority-owned radio station

Everyone is welcome to dance, listen and learn at this inaugural Juneteenth event, hosted by One Westbrook and the City of Westbrook.

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