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The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man: With an Introduction by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

3.9  ·  Rating details ·  7,269 Ratings  ·  420 Reviews
First published anonymously in 1912, this resolutely unsentimental novel gave many white readers their first glimpse of the double standard -- and double consciousness -- that ruled the lives of black people in modern America. Republished in 1927, at the height of the Harlem Renaissance, with an introduction by Carl Van Vechten, The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man beca ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published December 17th 1989 by Vintage (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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Diane S ☔
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
Lawyer
Apr 29, 2012 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

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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
...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 standard that fits within a larger context. The canon can't be ignored, and par
...more
Monica
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
Julie
May 16, 2018 marked it as abandoned  ·  review of another edition
5/10

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
...more
Gill
Dec 19, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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
Thomas
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
...more
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
...more
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
...more
Kati
Feb 19, 2009 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.
Eugenie
Sep 17, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Beautifully written but .........I may write a full review sometime.
Chris
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
...more
Jacqueline
Jun 23, 2008 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
...more
Roisin
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
...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
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
Courtney
Jul 15, 2009 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
Tabitha
Feb 28, 2012 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
بثينة الإبراهيم
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
...more
RYCJ
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
...more
Luckngrace
Nov 03, 2011 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
Lawanen
Dec 05, 2008 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
Dec 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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 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
Jennifer W
Sep 02, 2015 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!
Bob Schnell
Feb 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: general-fiction
This is an interesting bit of fiction that could have easily been passed off as a real autobiography if the author had wanted to deceive his audience. It was originally published anonymously, perhaps to shield him from criticism or social backlash. As it is, the story rings true because there are many parallels to James Weldon Johnson's life as an "able to pass for white" black man. Mr. Johnson eventually wrote his real autobiography "Along This Way" so perhaps this was a prelude of the work to ...more
Stacey (wanderlustforwords)
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
...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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“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.” 23 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.” 16 likes
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