By Zoe Vordos

"Georgia Douglass Johnson was a musician, playwright, fiction writer, mother, wife, friend, mentor,
intellectual and gracious host, and one would begin to approach more of who she was a creative woman
of her time. One of the most loved and cherished participants of the Harlem Renaissance period, Georgia
Douglas Johnson was the nurturer who gave to others not just her adenced words, but much of her heart."
Johnson was born in Atlanta, Georgia, to parents of African American, Native American, and English descent in 1880. As a girl, she grew up in a rural neighborhood within Atlanta. She attended the local schools and helped her parents opperate the small farm they owned.

She graduated from Atlanta University Normal College and studied music at the Oberlin Conservatory and the Cleveland College of Music. After graduation, she taught and worked as an assistant principal.

In 1910 she moved with her husband to Washington, D.C. When her husband died in 1925, Johnson supported her two sons by working temporary jobs until she was hired by the Department of Labor. In 1934 she lost her job in the Department of Labor and returned to supporting herself with temporary clerical work. As late as the 1960s, Johnson was still applying for fellowships that never materialized.

Johnson’s house at 1461 S Street NW, which came to be known as site of the S Street Salon, was an important meeting place for writers of the Harlem Renaissance in Washington, D.C. Johnson published her first poems in 1916 in the NAACP’s magazine Crisis. Her weekly column, “Homely Philosophy,” was syndicated by twenty publications from 1926 to 1932. A collaboration with composer Lillian Evanti in the late 1940s made use of Johnson's earlier music training at Oberlin Conservatory and the Cleveland College of Music; and an international correspondence club that she organized and ran from 1930 to 1965. Her writing was seriously curtailed by the loss of her Department of Labor job in 1934. She wrote numerous plays, including Blue Blood (performed 1926) and Plumes (performed 1927). Johnson traveled widely in the 1920s to give poetry readings. Johnson received an honorary doctorate in literature from Atlanta University in 1965.

Georgia Douglass johnson died in Washington D.C. IN 1966, but her poetry and music left a lasting impression on the world forever.

The rose-covered walk at 1461 S Street, created by Johnson fifty years ago, still stands in testimony to the many African American artists she welcomed and to the love poetry for which she is best known. Struggling without the material support that would have helped bring more of her work to light and battling racist stereotypes that fed lynch mobs and race riots in the formative years of her life, Georgia Douglas Johnson left a legacy of indomitable pride and creative courage that has only begun to be understood.

Smothered Fires

By Georgia Douglas Johnson

A woman with a burning flame
Deep covered through the years
With ashes. Ah! she hid it deep,
And smothered it with tears.

I think this stanza is like a brief explanation of what is happening in this woman’s life. ‘A burning flame’ is like a secret, that she has ‘covered through the years’, and the ashes are a metaphor for emotions or feelings, so she is trying to cover up this secret and forget about it, and ‘smother it with tears’.

Sometimes a baleful light would rise
From out the dusky bed,
And then the woman hushed it quick
To slumber on, as dead.

‘A baleful light would rise’ means that sometimes she couldn’t hide the secret and part of it would show, without her knowing, and ‘the dusky bed’ is like saying it rose from the deepest and darkest parts of her mind and body. ‘And then the woman hushed it quick’, so she quickly covered it up and didn’t let it show, ‘to slumber on, as dead’, so she would pretend that nothing happened and continue on like normal.

At last the weary war was done
The tapers were alight,
And with a sigh of victory
She breathed a soft—good-night!

‘At last the weary war was done’, so she is finally done fighting this secret and she finally found a way to overcome it and ignore it. ‘And with a sigh of victory’, means she overcome this secret and can now breathe easy. ‘She breathed a soft—good-night!’ she is finally at peace and she can relax.

Works Cited