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Charles Spurgeon Johnson was an editor, author, and an educator. Born in Bristol, Virginia, he graduated from the University of Chicago in 1918 with a degree in Sociology. While in Chicago, he worked as a researcher for the National Urban League. He was a non-commissioned officer in France during WWI; on his return, he resumed graduate studies in Chicago and was the principal author of The Negro in Chicago: A study of Race Relations and a Race Riot, 1919 - a landmark study of race relations sponsored by the Chicago Commission on Race Relations.

He moved to New York in 1921 and began work for the National Urban League as its national director of research and investigations; he also became the editor of the League's new magazine called Opportunity: a Journal of Negro Life. As editor, Johnson was instrumental in attracting, encouraging, and supporting those young Black writers and artists who produced the Harlem Renaissance. The annual Opportunity prizes recognized the achievements of this talented group.

In 1926, Johnson accepted the position of the Chair of the Sociology Department at Fisk University at Nashville; while there, he continued his support of the Harlem movement. Twenty years later, he became the first Black president of that university and was resposible for attracting a distinguished group of faculty; among them, Arna Bontemps, James Weldon Johnson, and Aaron Douglas.

Primary Works

Editor, Opportunity: a Journal of Negro Life

Editor, Ebony and Topaz, 1928

The Negro in American civilization; a study of Negro life and race relations in the light of social research. NY: H. Holt, 1930. E185.6 .J665

The collapse of cotton tenancy. Summary of Field studies & statistical surveys, 1933-35, by Charles S. Johnson, Edwin R. Embree [and] W. W. Alexander. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1935. HD9075 .J6

Shadow of the plantation. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1966, c1934. E185.93.A3 J6

Growing up in the Black Belt; Negro youth in the rural South. With an introd. by St. Clair Drake. Prepared for the American Youth Commission, American Council on Education. NY: Schocken Books, 1967, c1941. E185.86 .J6

"The Negro Renaissance and Its Significance." (1954) Remembering the Harlem Renaissance. Ed. Cary D. Wintz. NY: Garland, 1996. 226-34.

The Negro college graduate. NY: Negro Universities Press, 1969. LC2781 J6

Education and the cultural process; papers presented at symposium commemorating the seventy-fifth anniversary of the founding of Fisk University, April 29-May 4, 1941. Edited by Charles S. Johnson. NY: Negro Universities Press,1970. LC2717 E36

Selected Bibliography 1980-Present

Bone, Robert. The Muse in Bronzeville: African American Creative Expression in Chicago, 1932-1950. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2011.

Riley, Sam G. ed. American Magazine Journalists, 1900-1960 First Series. Detroit: Gale, 1990.

Wintz, Cary D. ed. Remembering the Harlem Renaissance. NY: Garland, 1996.

MLA Style Citation of this Web Page:

Reuben, Paul P. "Chapter 9: Charles S. Johnson." PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide. URL: (provide page date or date of your login). 

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