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The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man and Other Writings (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

3.90  ·  Rating Details  ·  5,411 Ratings  ·  287 Reviews
The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man and Other Writings, by James Weldon Johnson, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classicsseries, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Cla ...more
Paperback, 208 pages
Published April 1st 2007 by Barnes & Noble Classics (first published 1912)
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Feb 04, 2013 Lawyer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone
Recommended to Lawyer by: Howard Miller, Professor Emeritus, Department of Psychology, The University of Alabama
The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man: James Weldon Johnson's novel of race and identity

"You are young, gifted, and Black. We must begin to tell our young, There's a world waiting for you, Yours is the quest that's just begun.--James Weldon Johnson

James Weldon Johnson

Johnson lived an extraordinary life as a writer, musician,educator, lawyer, and diplomat. Born in Jacksonville, Florida,in 1871, the son of teacher Helen Dulett and James Johnson, the head waiter at St. James Hotel, one of the
OK, so maybe this isn't one of the great novels of the 20th century. The canon tells me that other books are, and because of that I'm starting to become less enamored of the canon and of those who insist on pushing it--because such a focus on the limited offerings of elite taste makers and academics causes gems like this to fall by the wayside.

I do pay attention to the canon and use it as a guide and as a benchmark for a standard, but like anything it's best to keep the proverbial grain of salt
What an extraordinary novel! It's difficult to believe such a short work can contain so much. First there is the story itself, which includes among other things a detailed and colorful explanation of the Cakewalk, the story of the rise of Ragtime, the beauty of the music of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, a rigorous defense of Gospel singing as culturally significant, an explanation of the inner workings of a cigar factory, a celebration of Uncle Remus stories before they were sullied by Walt Disney, ...more
3.5 stars

A story about an "Ex-Colored Man" who decides to pass as white after witnessing the lynching of a fellow black man. James Weldon Johnson details the unnamed Ex-Colored Man's coming of age, ranging from when he realizes his skin color matters, to when he plays ragtime music for a rich white gentleman, to when he decides to erase his race, a key component of himself. So sad to see how this story remains relevant in 2014 after the tragic deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Would recom
Feb 19, 2009 Kati rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved the parts about his childhood, his mother, and his fascination with Shiny; his realizations about race--his races--are more powerful when he talks about how he understood (or didn't understand) them as a child.
Oct 21, 2014 Eugenie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Beautifully written but .........I may write a full review sometime.
Fascinating classic. While reading this book, I couldn’t help but be mesmerized by it. This is a time capsule. A deep look at the world through the eyes of a nameless narrator. The book was written in 1912. This book is a genuine exploration of color through the eyes of a man who seems to be able to successfully transition and adapt almost seamlessly between two worlds (Negro and White). As the narrator moves between worlds he makes observations about Negroes and White people. I think he does a ...more
There are times when I wish Goodreads would hand out a limited number of very special extra six star reads. Rarely does a book deserve more than "It was awesome!". And, here is that rare breed of book - the beyond five-star read.

The awakening of this journey I am on, to discover new and old, the books that ask and contemplate the race question continues. Each new book is another layer, where I think it can't get any better.. and, then it does. I read another piece that touches me more than the l
Jul 16, 2009 Courtney rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
After discussing the difference between what is considered a “good” novel and what is considered an “interesting” novel*, I have made the decision that this one is most certainly interesting, but not very good. Johnson presents race issues ranging from double-consciousness to passing (crossing the color line) to the struggle for identity as his unnamed narrator explores the dark tunnels connecting whiteness and blackness during Reconstruction. In this novel the reader (and the narrator) becomes ...more
Jun 23, 2008 Jacqueline rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2007-2008
I really liked readingThe Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. It's a book about a bi-racial man who struggles to choose between Black and White. Born from a black mother and a white father, his light skin enables him to pass as a Caucasian person, yet he still has his mother's blood in him. As a child, he referred to himself as a white boy and even grew up marrying a white woman. However, he never felt "complete".

This book and the issues and ideas raised in the story helped me to see how a perso
Sep 14, 2015 Roisin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This short, yet mighty, thought provoking, (published in 1912), fictionalised account of a black man, who eventually passes for white, due to his light complexion and looks will stay with any reader. Loosely based on James Weldon Johnson's life, the 'Ex-Colored Man' gives us his heart, his thought and fears and exposes what it is his to be a black person in America.

With a woman being recently placed in detention while trying to remonstrate with authorities that she owned her car, this book still
his is a really hard review for me to write there is just so much to say about the book and I have no idea where to start. And if I said all that I wanted to say, this review would end up a term paper instead of a simple review.

Simply stated The Autobiography of An Ex-Colored is about a mulatto man that can pass as white. But the story is much deeper and more complex then just skin colored. Set in the early 1900's Weldon touch on a lot of issues dealing with racial prejudice and cultural identit
Dec 22, 2008 Andrew marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
I found this book in the hallway of my apartment building. I generally enjoy books about race by black people, because (being a white man) I only really have access to one set of experiences with race, the "winning" side. Anti-racists will tell you that no one wins in a racist society, and fundamentally that is true, but some people sure end up with a lot more stuff for the same amount of work. One could argue that having all that stuff makes one less free, which is also probably true...but this ...more
Sarah Weathersby
Good Read for an Ice Storm

I completed reading The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man overnight. It is a short read at about 140 pages, and free on Kindle.

James Weldon Johnson first published this book anonymously in 1912, to avoid any controversy that might endanger his diplomatic career. And it is actually not an autobiography, but rather historical fiction.

As he wrote this book anonymously, he created characters who were also anonymous. Of all the dozens of characters in the story there were o
Mar 05, 2012 Tabitha rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I believe every child in the South should read this book as part of Southern history. We learned about the Civil War in school, and about Reconstruction. Depending upon the teacher you got, the middle of the nineteenth century was either required material, a glorious period in Southern history, or a terrible era of U.S. history. In either way, the symbolism of the period always seemed to overshadow its reality. What Johnson does so well is to make his main character real, while still presenting ...more
Nov 03, 2011 Luckngrace rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the most fascinating books I have ever read! This is the life and beliefs of a brilliant black man with white skin. It was written in the early 1900s and bespoke common sense and well thought-out theory. His mother tried to pass him as white the first several years of his life and he had no knowledge of being in any way different from his white companions. This gave him the advantage of seeing and overstanding both sides of the race issue. Having been born less than 10 years after the Civ ...more
Dec 05, 2008 Lawanen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lawanen by: my sister
Brilliant author! And of course a brilliant book! It is a refreshing take to the issue about the colored men and women in America. He steps into the situation as if he is just an observer, witnessing all the struggles and hindrances a black person has to endure because of his/her color. James Weldon Johnson is truly to be praised for but I felt the book was to involved with himself. Well, of course, the book was his autobiography, but I was displeased with his air of arrogance that I can sense ...more
Ferrell Foster
This is a superb book, written by one of our great African American writers. It is written as if it were a first-person, non-fiction autobiography, but it is a novel. It displays great story-telling judgment, not wasting time on details that do not help convey the story. It is a quick read but a powerful one. It deals with a reality that I didn't even know existed and in the process explains much about race relations in the United States.

As an Anglo American, I am astonished as to why more of th
Apr 03, 2015 RYCJ rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: my-keepers
From start to finish I was drawn to the storytelling which is not just great, but grand. The merits of ‘Ragtime’ music, and the cake-walk, were revealing. The differences described between London and Paris titillating. And on top of the plethora of ‘race’ discussions between the ex-colored man and aristocrats like himself, I was bowled over by the premise and the decision he faced... and ultimately made... and why!

The story encouraged me to look into books such as ‘Monte Cristo’, ‘The Three Guar
Jennifer W
Sep 19, 2015 Jennifer W rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: byt-1900-1940
So, so relevant to today's world. Don't look at the publication date, and you'll swear it was written in the last year. Race relations, a person's identity, how to live amongst other people of other races, what makes a meaningful life, all so wonderfully expressed. It tears at my heart that we haven't made more progress in American race relations.

Being that you can get this book for free as a kindle download, more people need to read this book; no excuses!
Only 100 pages and part autobiographical ( it's not actually an autobiography). About an anonymous protagonist who is of mixed negro and white blood who grows up poor but turns into a bit of a poly math. It takes u through the journey of his life right up to the point of his marriage. There are some incredible scenes described in this book which almost bought me to years. - good and bad scenes. The protagonist is a trend setting ragtime player and learns multiple languages on his trip to Europe ...more
K.M.J. K.M.J.
Jun 01, 2015 K.M.J. K.M.J. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Hey ya'll,
So when I read novels I have a tendency to pick up crime thrillers, mysteries, and sometimes romance stories. However, I enjoyed every minute of this novel though it was historical fiction. What really amazed me was how much I was able to connect with this character without him having a name. Johnson never put a name on the main character and I found it odd yet, enticing all at once because the mystery behind this bi-racial man had made me want to read on to see if (Spoiler) they would
Ryan Lawson

James Weldon Johnson's The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man
Wk.40; Bk.40

Something tells me that if I were to tell the author of this book that I didn't like it, his response would be that I didn't like it because I'm not black. In the words of the narrator, which I believe is merely Johnson himself [paraphrased:]:

An African-American knows what it's like to be white, but a white person could never know what it's like to be black.

An entirely subjective suggestion of which the author/narrator nev
Jul 20, 2008 Amethyst rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
My first experience with James Weldon Johnson. Easy to read, but the name tells you the whole story in a sense. You're really only reading to see exactly how it happened for him. What the book really did is got me thinking about what "passing" looks like today. Does it still exist: "passing"? The notion of passing has since been transformed and exists in a different way. I mean it used to be something Black people who looked white did and if they were ever found out, there would be some serious ...more
Dec 06, 2014 Sandy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've always been a lover of the literature of the Harlem Renaissance. This book is now my favorite offering of that period. Well, technically, it was wriitten before the Harlem Renaissance but reissued during that period.

Uncannily, the story captures the essence of race in America. Relevant to our current issues as it was when originally written. Sadly though, it shows that the more thing change, the more yhey stay the same.
I found this a very troubling book. Initially published in 1912 by a highly respected black man (James Weldon Johnson is best known now, perhaps, for having written the words to "The Negro National Anthem," "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing") this piece of fiction appears to be based on the life of his friend and law partner, Judson Douglas Wetmore, who did indeed pass for white. I wouldn't presume to speak for people of color, but it made MY skin crawl to have the main character, a black man not immed ...more
Jan 21, 2009 Andrea rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: All - paticularly interested in African American Studies
Great engaging writer. I can't go into everything I learned...however, I was hugely ammused by the following,

"I read a good portion of the Old Testament, all that part treating of wars and rumors of wars, and then started in on the New. I became interested in the life of Christ, but became impatient and disappointed when I found that, notwithstanding the great power he possessed, he did not make use of it when, in my judgement, he most needed to do so. And so my first general impression of the B
Feb 05, 2012 April rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An amazing book, given that it was published in 1912, 100 years ago this year. I can't believe Johnson's bravery in describing aspects of African American life that are still considered taboo today. For instance, he must be one of the first to describe "the colored line," the fact that African Americans themselves tended to prejudicially favor lighter skinned members over darker skinned. And to actually go inside the mind of someone who has decided to "pass" as white, not in a condemning way, bu ...more
Kat Saunders
I'd venture to say perhaps 2.5 stars. The plot is certainly interesting; passing narratives are one of my main literary interests. I'm interested in the role of music in this novel, but ultimately, not much comes of that motif. This novel is an undeniably important work in the American lit canon--but that doesn't mean it's very well- written. I can't help but think what this novel might have been like in more skilled hands. Nearly everything in this novel is told through summary and rarely in sc ...more
Ginger Lehmann
Jul 25, 2015 Ginger Lehmann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely fascinating and thought-provoking story with themes that are extremely relevant to our society today. I'm thinking of using is in my AP Language class next year.
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James Weldon Johnson was an American author, politician, diplomat, critic, journalist, poet, anthologist, educator, lawyer, songwriter, and early civil rights activist. Johnson is remembered best for his writing, which includes novels, poems, and collections of folklore. He was also one of the first African-American professors at New York University. Later in life he was a professor of creative li ...more
More about James Weldon Johnson...

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“New York City is the most fatally fascinating thing in America. She sits like a great witch at the gate of the country, showing her alluring white face, and hiding her crooked hands and feet under the folds of her wide garments,--constantly enticing thousands from far within, and tempting those who come from across the seas to go no farther. And all these become the victims of her caprice. Some she at once crushes beneath her cruel feet; others she condemns to a fate like that of galley slaves; a few she favors and fondles, riding them high on the bubbles of fortune; then with a sudden breath she blows the bubbles out and laughs mockingly as she watches them fall.” 18 likes
“It is strange how in some things honest people can be dishonest without the slightest compunction.” 9 likes
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