"ONE OF THE MOST COMMANDING FIGURES OF THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE": FIRST EDITION OF GOD'S TROMBONES, 1927, INSCRIBED BY JAMES WELDON JOHNSON, HIS "HIGHEST ACHIEVEMENT IN POETRY"
JOHNSON, James Weldon. God's Trombones. Seven Negro Sermons in Verse… Drawings by Aaron Douglas. Lettering by C.B. Falls. New York: Viking, 1927. Octavo, original three-quarter black cloth, gilt paper-covered boards, original dust jacket. $3000.
First edition of Johnson's "major contribution to the Harlem Renaissance of black American writing," inscribed by him, "For Miss J— Sincerely James Weldon Johnson," his volume of seven sermons in verse, including "Creation," "Let My People Go," and his lead sermon in verse, "Listen, Lord—A Prayer," together in print for the first time, featuring eight striking full-page illustrations by famed Harlem Renaissance artist Aaron Douglas, in the original dust jacket.
James Weldon Johnson was "one of the most commanding figures of the Harlem Renaissance in his multiple roles as lyricist, editor, historian, novelist and director of the NAACP." Early in his career he co-authored with his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, Lift Every Voice and Sing (1900), "a song that has since become known throughout the U.S. as the black national anthem" (Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance, 179-80). Soon after publishing his groundbreaking Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912), Johnson served as the NAACP's field secretary and in 1920 became its first black executive secretary. In that position he also became an activist in the fight against lynching and battled for the ultimately unsuccessful passage of the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill. He also edited The Book of American Negro Poetry (1922), which is credited with "establishing the tradition of black literature anthologies," and co-edited with his brother the two volumes of The Book of American Negro Spirituals (1925-26).
"Johnson's major contribution to the Harlem Renaissance explosion of black American writing was his book of poems, God's Trombones, published in 1927. For almost ten years Johnson worked on these folk sermons in verse whenever the demands of NAACP work relented enough to make writing possible. 'The Creation' was published in 1918, and two others were published in magazines during the mid-1920s… The completed book presents seven sermons—'The Creation,' 'The Prodigal Son,' 'Go Down Death—A Funeral Sermon,' '"Noah Built the Ark,' 'The Crucifixion,' 'Let My People Go' and 'The Judgment Day'—preceded by an opening poem, 'Listen, Lord—A Prayer'… Commonly accepted as Johnson's highest achievement in poetry, God's Trombones demonstrated in art the dignity and power of African American folk culture" (Oxford Companion to African American Literature). First edition, first printing: with no statement of editions or printings on the copyright page. Preface by Johnson dated in print, "New York City, 1927." With eight full-page illustrations by Aaron Douglas; lettering by C.B. Falls. Blockson 5369. Work, 459.
Interior quite fresh with just a few minor expert paper repairs, faint edge-wear to gilt boards; light edge-wear mainly to spine ends of scarce dust jacket. A near-fine copy.