Civil Rights Tour: Civic and Social Life - Georgia Douglas Johnson's "Halfway House"

1461 S Street NW

“… heavy, heavy is the load That bends my body to the road.” (Georgia Douglas Johnson, The Ordeal)

Poet Georgia Douglas Johnson (1877-1966) was a nationally recognized figure of the New Negro Renaissance who attacked lynching through her writing. In the 1920s and ‘30s, she wrote six one-act plays in a literary genre known as lynching drama, which displayed some of the ways African Americans’ lives were controlled by white men, via sexual violence and lynching, or threats of these forms of terror. Some of Johnson’s plays also touched upon efforts in Congress to adopt an anti-lynching law, and she joined other members of the Writers League Against Lynching in urging President Roosevelt to demand that Congress act.

Johnson graduated from the Oberlin College Conservatory in 1903 and moved to DC with her attorney husband, Henry Lincoln Johnson, in 1910. Although her husband discouraged her from writing (he preferred that she stick to housekeeping), she published her first book of poetry in 1916, followed by a second one in 1922. When her husband died three years later, and Johnson needed to support herself and her two teenaged sons, she took a position in the Department of Labor as Commissioner of Conciliation, charged with investigating the conditions under which workers lived.

She also continued to write, and at the suggestion of writer Jean Toomer, began welcoming the city’s luminaries for Saturday evening salons at her home which she nicknamed the "Halfway House." Among the regulars discussing literature, politics, civil rights, and the issues of the day were fellow poets Alice Dunbar Nelson, Angelina Grimké, and Langston Hughes; playwrights Mary Burrell and Willis Richardson; philosopher and writer Alain Locke; and sociologist and columnist Kelly Miller. Johnson published four volumes of poetry, and her work also appeared in The Crisis, published by the NAACP, and The Messenger, a journal founded by A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen.