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The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  7,618 ratings  ·  449 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 person, The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man influenced a generation of writers during the Harlem Renaissance and served as eloquen
Paperback, (American Century Series), 212 pages
Published March 1st 1991 by Hill and Wang (first published 1912)
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Neffer Kari Certainly. This tiny text offers concise visions into the combination of animus and guilt (or denial) over said animus that perpetuate the race…moreCertainly. This tiny text offers concise visions into the combination of animus and guilt (or denial) over said animus that perpetuate the race problem in America. Collective responsibility, on the part of the victim and victimizer to address racial inequality is firmly established, both by the narrator's choice to pass, and the numerous secondary characters' actions and declarations. It is not enough to not do evil or sidestep evil. Without preaching, Johnson helps us see that a life of action is the only life. Insulating yourself for your own sake, or for the sake of your children is inadequate in the presence of terrorism.(less)

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3.91  · 
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 ·  7,618 ratings  ·  449 reviews

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Diane S ☔
Dec 15, 2016 rated it liked it
A well written book about the life of a black man, a man who is light enough to pass as white. He takes us through his life, moving from North to South and back again. As a young boy e believed himself to be white until an episode at school will confront him with the truth. His job in a cigar factory, promotion to a reader, something I had never heard of before. Gambling, the Harlem Renaissance, the views held by whites toward blacks and the opposite as well. Views he is well able to describe ha ...more
Apr 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
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 standard that fits within a larger context. The canon can't be ignored, and par
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
Lark Benobi
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
May 16, 2018 marked it as abandoned

The writing is gracious, refined, much like the protagonist, but I couldn’t get my mind around whether I liked this character or not.

Abandoned at page 87. Skimmed the rest. The only way that this novel could work for me was if it was written ironically. I can’t be sure that it wasn’t.

The author led a fascinating life but I’m not convinced of his standing as a fascinating writer.

The only thing that rang true was the very last sentence, set here with its telling preamble.

“It is difficult f
Alannah Clarke
Very interesting book, it's such a shame that I probably would not have read this if it weren't for my book group. I haven't read any bi-racial accounts before this, I believe Johnson was born to a black mother and a white father. Because I had also been watching a series about being black in Britain, I found it interesting that a lot of the issues that were spoken about in this book seemed to pop up in the television series proving that very little may have changed throughout time and other cou ...more
Nov 24, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-for-college
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
Dec 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
I found this novel (it is fiction despite the title) interesting, but written in rather a matter of fact style.

I read it for a group read on GR, and the group discussion together with following up on the internet regarding the author and background to the book, really enhanced this for me. I now have a much better appreciation of the novel.
Ken Moten
PSA: This is a fictional novel; if you want to read Johnson's actual autobiography, track-down Along This Way: The Autobiography of James Weldon Johnson. And now the review.

Nocturne, Op. 48, No. 1 by Frédéric Chopin

James Weldon Johnson was a diplomat, activist and writer who seemed to be equally talented in each field. He was the first African-American lawyer in Florida post-Reconstruction and the first African American to teach at New York University. He was instrumental in the early years of t
aPriL does feral sometimes
I recommend reading this fascinating novel.

'The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man' is not a real memoir or non-fiction. It is a fictionalized autobiography written in 1912. Despite that it is fiction, it has a strong feel of true authenticity. What is truly wondrous and sad about the book is how the questions, disputes and agonies over race in 1912 have little changed since this novel was written.

The narrator's story is a coming-of-age one. He experiences unusual adventures because although h
Guy Austin
Dec 18, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bingo, fiction
I liked it... It was a bit dry, yet it is precise in its telling of the "facts" of this persons life as they unfold before him.

I think it is important to keep in perspective the date it was written, 1912 is when it was first published. The writer was a founder of the NAACP, worked on T.R.'s Presidential campaign, wrote Broadway tunes, Poetry, was American Consul to Puerto Rico and Venezuela.

The "Autobiography" having been written anonymously until Johnson was credited in 1927 and the fact that
Feb 19, 2009 rated it liked it
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.
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
Sep 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
Beautifully written but .........I may write a full review sometime.
Johnson's fictional autobiography of a man who can pass and who, at first, doesn't realize he is black, undoubtedly draws from his own life. The literature student can see the forerunner of Baldwin and Wright in this work as well as comments on the America of his time. In many ways, Johnson gives voice to comments about race and racial relations that bear repeating today. In particular, he foregrounds the question of prespective and living as a minority in a white world.

Some of the most beautifu
Feb 16, 2015 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
Jun 23, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: tops
EXQUISITE!!! What a perfect way to kick off the best month of the year; Black History Month!!! When I tell you this wonderful man, writer, WORDSMITH went in and did not return until it was over... my GOD! I loved this book and I’m SO glad I have a copy for my collection of books! I loved how he gave each character time to develop in your mind and heart. I love how his love for each of his characters shone through & he didn’t linger— he even said that with regard to one specific character.

Sep 05, 2015 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
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 15, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
Feb 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
بثينة الإبراهيم
Jan 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
قرأتها بترجمتها العربية الصادرة عن دار كلمات نوفمبر 2016.
نشرت الرواية بالإنجليزية أول مرة عام 1912 مغفلة من اسم الكاتب، لأن جونسون خاف أن تؤثر في مسيرته الدبلوماسية كونها تطرح مشاكل العرق والتمييز العنصري، وهي مواضيع شائكة لم تكن شائعة في الأدب في ذلك الوقت.
البطل أيضًا مغفل الاسم، ما يجعل منها قصة أي أحد، وكل أحد! ولد البطل الفاتح البشرة لأبوين من عرقين مختلفين، وبالتالي سيكونان من طبقتين مختلفتين بالضرورة، لكنه لم ينتبه إلى ذلك إلا حين طلبت المعلمة من الطلاب البيض أن ينهضوا ولما فعل أسوة بأقرا
Review to follow
Sarah Bodnar
Sep 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-for-class
I am very interested in the history of passing in America and I think this books delve into what it meant to be Black in this country, to pass, to be torn between what you should be doing and what you're actually doing, was all really interesting. It's a classic but it's readable, the narrator is understandable and the book as a whole has a grasp on race politics and intricacies. I'd say this an important book for anyone looking to study the history of Black identity.
Stacey (bookishpursuit)
I can not rate this book- there are too many variables and the usual considerations are moot.

I read The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man presuming that it was James Weldon Johnson's autobiography. It is NOT. I learned this fact after I finished the book, knowing, changed many of my feelings, thoughts and opinions. The novel is about a "mulatto" boy who is raised as, and looks like, a white child. Until an incident at school (where his teacher doesn't allow him to stand with the white kids, bu
Nov 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it it was ok
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
Dec 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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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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
“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.” 24 likes
“In the life of everyone there is a limited number of experiences which are not written upon the memory, but stamped there with a die; and in the long years after, they can be called up in detail, and every emotion that was stirred by them can be lived through anew; these are the tragedies of life.” 18 likes
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