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The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

3.88 of 5 stars 3.88  ·  rating details  ·  4,050 ratings  ·  204 reviews
One of the most prominent African-Americans of his time, James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938) was a successful lawyer, educator, social reformer, songwriter, and critic. But it was as a poet and novelist that he achieved lasting fame.
Among his most famous works, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man in many ways parallels Johnson's own remarkable life. First published in 1912
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Paperback, 112 pages
Published May 10th 1995 by Dover Publications (first published 1912)
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Community Reviews

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Mike
Feb 04, 2013 Mike rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
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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
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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
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Kati
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.
Eugenie
Beautifully written but .........I may write a full review sometime.
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
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
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
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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  ·  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
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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
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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
Sandy
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.
Andrea
Jan 21, 2009 Andrea rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
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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
Maya B
I enjoyed this story even though it slowed down in the end. I believe he spent many years confused about his race. It saddened me that his mother did not explain to him who he really was. It was almost like he went through life figuring it out on his own
Shehla
For the majority of this, I was confused about the title: how can you be an EX-colored man, in the early 1900s? I read this for class and it was full of powerful and racially important ideas that I do appreciate but I'm going to review this as a book read as a novel for someone not studying it.

The story was lively and interesting, following the changes in the narrator's life and carrying his voice even though he was looking back on things. I enjoyed the characters that he met and the circumstan
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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.
Hattie

This is a Negro man's narrative. It's about his desire to succeed in a society where the color of the skin is more important than honesty or any other character value of life. As he journeys through life from the North to the South in the United States, he faces a hard dilemma. Should he choose to help his Negro brother fight a struggle to prove himself human and intelligent, or should he fight only for himself by making money, owning power and societal connections? He can always say the choice
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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
Sierra Abrams
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.

__________________________________________
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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...
God's Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse The Book of American Negro Poetry The Creation Lift Every Voice and Sing Along This Way: The Autobiography of 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.” 15 likes
“It is strange how in some things honest people can be dishonest without the slightest compunction.” 5 likes
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