The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man
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The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

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3.86 of 5 stars 3.86  ·  rating details  ·  3,618 ratings  ·  191 reviews
James Weldon Johnson's emotionally gripping novel is a landmark in black literary history and, more than eighty years after its original anonymous publication, a classic of American fiction. The first fictional memoir ever written by a black, The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man influenced a generation of writers during the Harlem Renaissance and served as eloquent insp...more
Paperback, (American Century Series), 212 pages
Published March 1st 1991 by Hill and Wang (first published 1912)
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The Color Purple by Alice WalkerTheir Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale HurstonThe Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm XBeloved by Toni MorrisonInvisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Best African American Books
50th out of 476 books — 579 voters
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale HurstonThe Ways of White Folks by Langston HughesNative Son by Richard WrightThe Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon JohnsonUncle Tom's Children by Richard Wright
The Harlem Renaissance
4th out of 107 books — 21 voters


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Mike
Feb 04, 2013 Mike rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone
Recommended to Mike 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

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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 e...more
Jacqueline
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...more
Courtney
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
Evan
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...more
Kati Reinke
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.
Renee
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...more
Tabitha
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
Luckngrace
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
Lawanen
Dec 05, 2008 Lawanen rated it 2 of 5 stars
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...more
Andrew
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
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...more
Amethyst
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
Andrea
Jan 21, 2009 Andrea rated it 4 of 5 stars
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...more
April
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
G del Toro
Johnson takes a 'fly on the wall' perspective with regard to his experiences of race in the post-civil war America. I like how he is able to use the 'ambiguity' of his ethnicity to navigate a rather racially divided society. Johnson often grapples with his blackness and whiteness, the former a more insidious social marker in the world of his contemporaries. I have had friends in the past who grapple with these identity crises, sometimes engendered by their own view of themselves and other times...more
Elijah Short
They synopsis was relatable — perhaps I say this being a colored man as well; don't know how much of an ex one I am. Yet, nonetheless, I found it rather bland and unmoving. In the introduction Carl Van Vechten writes that this book "reads like a composite autobiography of the Negro race in the United States in modern times", and for me perhaps that's where the problem lies. The nameless protagonist becomes this amalgamation of "The Negro". The whole concept of passing is interesting, however, Jo...more
John
Although not really a true account of the author's life, EX-COLORED MAN is an incredibly well-written tale of an African American male whose light-colored skin allowed him to span the racial divide that existed in post-Civil War America. Johnson addresses all the important race-related questions of the time, but he does so without resorting to the kind of hysteria and aggression we've become so used to seeing these days, most dependably from people like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.
Shanae
James Weldon Johnson's The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man is a great coming of age story of a young man struggling with identity. Though not a real autobiography, I feel like Johnson accurately captures the sentiment of Black America with the novel and I think he really captures the essence of Black writing with this story.
Elliot Ratzman
This is a fictional autobiography of a light-skinned man whose working mother was black and Southern gentry father was white. This enables the unnamed narrator to pass back and forth between white and black cultures, overhearing race debates among whites, observing fine distinctions in black life and dramatizing the identity crisis of a man who can pass between social worlds. Released anonymously in 1912—Johnson, author of "Lift Every Voice and Sing", was at the time employed in the diplomatic c...more
Yearning To Read
This story is a very emotional recollection of a man who was both black and white. A fictional account from an autobiographical standpoint of what such a life would look like, James Weldon Johnson takes us on a journey full of sorrow, bad mistakes, a glimpse of happiness, and a life lived around the world. We see the narrator has he grows, as he discovers his heritage, as he loses himself to his desires, and as he finally realizes the course of his life.

__________________________________________...more
Monique
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...more
Charles
I decided to take a break from all the fiction I've been reading and concentrate on something more serious/real. I've heard positive things about this book so I'm interested in seeing where he takes it.

This was a good book. The way I read it, it seemed to take on two tones - one where he was talking about the race problem in America, and another where he was talking about music, and in particular music in connection with the race problem in America. In my opinion, thats what differentiated this...more
Kim
Good read about racial identity.


I loved reading about the narrator's childhood...of his first discovering that he is of mixed race ("Mother, mother, tell me, am I a nigger?"), which both broke my heart and shocked me. It is a very insightful, honest read. As the narrator grew older, he was able to "pass" as one race or the other and gain insight from both, which led him to his final decision as living as a white man. As he had discovered, through experience of both and sentiments from members o...more
M.R. Dowsing
I knew little about this book when I started it, and initially took it for straight autobiography; however, various points in the story seemed a little too dramatically convenient to convince as non-fiction. I subsequently discovered that it is, essentially, a work of fiction - but none the less impressive for that. Published anonymously in 1912, Weldon Johnson apparently only admitted authorship in when it was republished in 1927.

The book tells the story of an African-American so light-skinned...more
Cleo
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Olivia Bethea
I would give this book a 4.3/5 for sure. I enjoyed everything from the fluid writing style to what the writing actually details. The story itself- being a biracial (but seemingly Caucasian) man in a heavily prejudice society- is great and the interprosed comments on society are equally as engaging. The idea actually reminds me a bit of Gatsby because the narrator is thrown into a different world and just kind of talks about what its like. I prefer The Autobiography to Gatsby though. It's riskier...more
Faelyn
The Autobiography of an Ex-colored Man by James Weldon Johnson is a fictional novel that closely follows Johnson’s own life. Written in the beginning of the nineteenth century, this book was most likely written for a white audience, even though it was about the life of a colored man. However, most people were not interested in books written by African American writers. Although, once black studies became a necessary element of school curriculums, this novel took off. It has become a classic nov...more
D
A very quick read, though the language is stilted and self-absorbed (written in first person). Consider it a step more interactive than a proverbial "fly on the wall" survey of race attitudes in the early part of the twentieth century, especially in the deep south, where there is, was, and for generations to come always will be an obsession with race and color. Initially, the book has a take on the receiving end of racism, as the unnamed protagonist, a light-skinned black man, deals with racism...more
Christy
A faux autobiography of a black man who could and did pass for white, Johnson's novel insists on blurring lines and calling categories into question. The narrator describes his life in detail, from his discovery as a child that he is black to his musical development, from his attempts to attend school in Atlanta to his life among the clubs and gambling dens of New York, from his travels in Europe with a wealthy white benefactor to his return to the South to embrace his blackness and become a mus...more
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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
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“It is strange how in some things honest people can be dishonest without the slightest compunction.” 4 likes
“I found cause to wonder upon what ground the English accuse Americans of corrupting the language by introducing slang words. I think I heard more and more different kinds of slang during my few weeks' stay in London than in my whole "tenderloin" life in New York. But I suppose the English feel that the language is theirs, and that they may do with it as they please without at the same time allowing that privilege to others.” 2 likes
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