Historic, but not famous

Sarah Van Brugh Livingston Jay, first lady of NY

By Robert Edge Pine (https://www.archives.gov/research/military/american-revolution/pictures/) - U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15901100

Sarah Van Brugh Livingston Jay (August 2, 1756 – May 28, 1802) was an American socialite and wife of founding father John Jay, in which capacity she was the wife of the President of the Continental Congress, of the Chief Justice of the United States, and First Lady of New York.

She was the oldest daughter of William Livingston, a signer or the Constitution. Both sides of her family were involved in New York and US politics. She traveled abroad with her husband during his time as an ambassador and often planned and participated in diplomatic events including the ratification of the Treaty of Paris in 1783. Upon returning to New York (when Mr. Jay was appointed U.S. Foreign Secretary), Livingston Jay’s experiences in Europe and French language skills were applied to hosting officials from the diplomatic corps and other guests in the U.S. capital city of New York.

Her role as a “hostess” set the example for many wives of men involved in government, both State and National for decades. She also wrote many letters and diaries regarding the politics of the day and contributed to the known history of the early days of the United States and NYC as the first capital. She was the mother of 6 children with John. She died on a farm in Bedford NY in 1802.

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Historic, but not famous

James Weldon Johnson, author, educator, diplomat, civil rights activist

James Weldon Johnson (June 17, 1871 – June 26, 1938) was an American author, educator, lawyer, diplomat, songwriter, and civil rights activist. Johnson may be best remembered for his leadership of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), where he started working in 1917.

Johnson established his reputation as a writer, and was known during the Harlem Renaissance for his poems, novels, and anthologies collecting both poems and spirituals of black culture. He was a prominent and influential voice of the Renaissance. In 1934 he was the first African-American professor to be hired at New York University.

Johnson and his brother Rosamond moved to New York City as young men, joining the Great Migration out of the South in the first half of the 20th century. They collaborated on songwriting and achieved some success on Broadway in the early 1900s. Johnson composed the lyrics of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” originally written for a celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday at Stanton School. This song became widely popular and has become known as the “Negro National Anthem,” a title that the NAACP adopted and promoted.

He became involved in civil rights activism after he returned from Venezuela and Nicaragua where he served as the US Consul for President Roosevelt. He was especially involved in  the campaign to pass federal legislation against lynching, as southern states did not prosecute perpetrators. Johnson died in 1938 while vacationing in Maine, when the car his wife was driving was hit by a train. His funeral in Harlem was attended by more than 2000 people. Johnson’s ashes are interred at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

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