For several years Mr. Johnson was principal of the colored high school at Jacksonville. He was admitted to the Florida bar in 1897, and practiced law in Jacksonville, until 1901, when he moved to New York to collaborate with his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, in writing for the
light opera stage.
In 1906, he was appointed United States Consul at Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, being transferred as Consul to Corinto, Nicaragua, in 1909. While in Corinto, he looked after the interests of his country during the stormy days of revolution which resulted in the downfall of Zelaya, and through the abortive revolution against Diaz. His knowledge of Spanish has been put to use in the translation of a number of Spanish plays. He was the translator for the English libretto of Goyescas, the Spanish grand opera produced by the Metropolitan Opera Company in 1915.
Mr. Johnson was for ten years the Contributing Editor of the New York Age. He added to his distinction as a newspaper writer by winning in an editorial contest one of three prizes offered by the Philadelphia Public Ledger in 1916. His poems have appeared in the Century, the Independent, the Crisis and other publications. In the spring of 1920, Mr. Johnson was sent by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to the black republic of Haiti, where he made an investigation of U. S. misrule. The charges which Mr. Johnson published in The Nation, of New York, upon his return were taken up by Senator Harding, and as a consequence a Naval Board of Inquiry was sent to Haiti and a Congressional Investigation promised. The articles published in The Nation have since been republished in a pamphlet entitled, “Self-Determining Haiti.” Mr. Johnson is Secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a member of the Board of Directors of the American Fund for Public Service (The Garland Fund), and a trustee of Atlanta University.
Mr. Johnson's works include:
The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man
Fifty Years and Other Poems English Libretto of “Goyescas"
The Book of American Negro Poetry
The Book of American Negro Spirituals
Second Book of Negro Spirituals
God's Trombones (Seven Negro Sermons in Verse)