Born in Florida in 1871, Johnson witnessed many racial beatings and lynchings as a child. Through his education, he broke away from poverty and became the first African American to pass the Florida bar examination. Although he was a lawyer and diplomat, writing continued as his principal interest. Johnson looked to his background to develop power poetry and prose. His writings caused some to call him a liar and threaten retaliation. But, Johnson's work educated those who would not acknowledge the horrors going on around them. Joining the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1916, he went on to become its Executive Director.