James Weldon Johnson’s Transnational Vaudeville
This introduction uses the popular James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamond Johnson song “Congo Love Song” to consider the way that African American popular culture—in this instance a wildly successful vaudeville song—were integral parts of a larger culture of African American transnational engagement with the Congo. The song was written and first performed in 1903 at the height of an African American campaign against King Leopold II of Belgium’s colonial regime. The political significance of the song is further highlighted by the career of James Weldon Johnson, who was not only a songwriter, but also a novelist, journalist, lawyer, educator, diplomat, and political activist with the NAACP. His longer career trajectory points to the ways that the Congo is deeply embedded with a wide range of African American cultural and political engagements.
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