Mother was Helen Louise Dillet (a musician and a public school teacher—the first female, black teacher in Florida at a grammar school). Father was James Johnson. His brother was the composer J. Rosamond Johnson.
James Weldon Johnson died during 1938 while vacationing in Wiscasset, Maine, when the car he was driving was hit by a train. His funeral in Harlem was attended by more than 2000 people.