Grace and James Weldon Johnson

The End of an Era:

Grace and James Weldon Johnson

The Romance of
Grace and James Weldon Johnson


    On November 19, 1976, a dozen family members and friends gathered in one of New York's most famous landmarks-the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, to be part of the final chapter in the romance of Grace and James Weldon Johnson.  The cemetery's verdant landscapes, sloping hills, exquisite gardens, and stately monuments made a fitting backdrop for the sacred ritual.  Grace had meticulously maintained James's urn in her personal care since his death in 1938.  The couple had decided soon after they married in 1910 that their remains would be interred together as they returned to the good earth from whence they came.

    Family friend Ellen Tarry who was present for this occasion said the guests marveled at the manner in which Grace had made plans and provided for this last chapter in their love story.  As the sky blue urns containing the remains of Grace and James were placed next to their monument, a feeling of finality filled the hearts of the guests; they had witnessed the end of an era.  The Johnsons' love story was beautiful and rare.

    Throughout American social history, writers and filmmakers in Hollywood have lauded numerous legendary white lovers while ignoring true African American love stories.  The End of an Era:  The Romance of Grace and James Weldon Johnson (2010) will be a significant addition to American social history since it will be the first true account of an African American enduring love story.  The Johnsons' life together is undeniably worth showcasing for generations around the world.

    As we glimpse behind the couple's professional and private lives, no doubt, we will pause to catch our collective breath.  We see them as part of New York City's most sophisticated circles during the early part of the century, long before Jim Crow was outlawed.  Their inner circle of friends held them in high regard because of their capacity for friendship regardless of race, religion, or origin. Family friend Arthur Spingarn regarded James as an elegant gentleman with rich culture, great charm, remarkable urbanity, a great brain, and a passion for justice.  Grace attended school in New York City and a Connecticut Finishing School where she studied Romance Languages.  During these years, her father, John Bennett Nail, was a prosperous real estate developer and tavern owner, and the family enjoyed considerable importance in the New York business community.  Grace was one of the most popular young ladies in New York society.

    A number of scholars and historians have examined aspects of James's public life.  But The End of an Era promises to delve deeply into the couple's personal life.  We see them help define the twentieth century through their shared objective-to play a pivotal role in rescuing a race from injustices.

    The End of an Era is primarily based on interviews with  persons who were members of the Johnsons' families, friends, colleagues, neighbors, and James's students.

Submitted by:  Dr. Sondra Kathryn Wilson, Historian and Author
Executor, The Estate of Grace and James Weldon Johnson