Monday, November 15, 2021
Contact: Emily Cook

Maine State Archives Shares Railroad Accident Report of the Death of Civil Rights Leader James Weldon Johnson

AUGUSTA — The original report of the 1938 railroad accident that killed famed Civil Rights leader James Weldon Johnson in Wiscasset, which is held by the Maine State Archives, is now available for viewing on

James Weldon Johnson was a famous author and Civil Rights activist during the early twentieth century. He is most famous for writing the lyrics to “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” commonly referred to as the Black National Anthem. Johnson accomplished much in his life – he was the first African American to serve as Executive Secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); he was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt to serve as U.S. Consul in Venezuela and Nicaragua; he was the first African American professor at New York University and later taught creative writing at Fisk University; and he was well known and respected within the Harlem Renaissance for his poems and literature.

On June 28, 1938, while vacationing in Maine, the car Mr. Johnson was traveling in with his wife, Grace Johnson, was struck by an oncoming Maine Central Railroad train at the railroad crossing on what is now Route 1, in Wiscasset. Mr. Johnson was killed instantly, and his wife sustained serious injury, necessitating recovery in a Damariscotta hospital for months.

At the time, railroad accidents such as this one required investigation by the Maine Public Utilities Commission. That investigation file, and others like it, are now held by the Maine State Archives. The complete file can be seen at

The Maine State Archives, a bureau within the Department of the Secretary of State, maintains approximately 100 million pages of official State records considered to be permanently historical and valuable.