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The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (Penguin Twentieth Century Classics) Reprint Edition

4.2 out of 5 stars 164 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0140184020
ISBN-10: 0140184023
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

With the possible exceptions of Dr. Alain Locke and W.E.B. Du Bois, no African American excelled on as many different levels as James Weldon Johnson. Along This Way--the first autobiography by a person of color to be reviewed in The New York Times--not only chronicles his life as an educator, lawyer, diplomat, newspaper editor, lyricist, poet, essayist, and political activist but also outlines the trials and triumphs of African Americans from post-Reconstruction to the rise and fall of the Harlem Renaissance. Born in Florida in 1871 to middle-class West Indian parents, Johnson recognized the challenges and absurdities of segregated America early on. But it was his experience as a tutor to rural blacks while a student at Atlanta University that was to alter the course of his life: "It was this period that marked the beginning of psychological change from boyhood to manhood," he writes. "It was this period that marked also the beginning of my knowledge of my own people as a race."

With a rare blend of pride and humility, Johnson recounts how he, among other accomplishments, became Florida's first black lawyer in 1898, a diplomat in Venezuela and Nicaragua, and lyricist for his brother Rosamond Johnson's famous song, "Lift Every Voice and Sing." Johnson's commentary on his epochal novel, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, as well as writings on his works of poetry--The Creation, God's Trombones, and Fifty Years and Other Poems--is priceless. Equally important are the logical and even-tempered opinions on race that he wrote for The New York Age, which offered comprehensive critiques of Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, and Marcus Garvey, along with his analysis of the racial climate while serving as head of the NAACP. This remarkable man left a mark on the 20th century that goes beyond the boundary of race. --Eugene Holley Jr. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From Library Journal

Johnson's theme of moral cowardice sets his tragic story of a mulatto in the United States above other sentimental narratives. The unnamed narrator, the offspring of a black mother and white father, tells of his coming-of-age at the beginning of the 20th century. Light-skinned enough to pass for white but emotionally tied to his mother's heritage, he ends up a failure in his own eyes after he chooses to follow the easier path while witnessing a white mob set fire to a black man. Reader Allen Gilmore contributes a fine reading. Recommended, with hopes for an unabridged edition in the future.?Sandy Glover, West Linn P.L., Ore.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Twentieth Century Classics
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (February 1, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140184023
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140184020
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.4 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (164 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #211,494 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Perhaps best known for writing the Black National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing , James Weldon Johnson wrote one of the first novels to probe the ambiguities of race, the novel The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man. As a boy, the fictional title character is sent North with his Mother to be raised in Connecticut. He does extremely well in school and is even something of a musical prodigy.
But, he is stunned when one day in school a teacher asks the white students to stand, and scolds him when he joins them. He confronts his fair skinned mother and she reveals that she is indeed black and his father is a white Southern gentleman. His father later comes to visit, and even buys him a piano, but the child is unable to approach and deal with him.
As a young man, the death of his mother & sale of their house leaves him with a small stake & he determines to attend college. Though qualified, he rules out Harvard for financial reasons & heads back down South to attend Atlanta University. However, his stake is stolen from his boarding house room before he can register & he ends up with a job in a cigar factory.
When the factory closes, he heads North again, this time to New York City and discovers Ragtime music and shooting craps, excelling at the one & nearing ruin in the other. A white gentleman who has heard him play enters into an exclusive agreement to have him play at parties & subsequently takes him along on a tour of Europe.
Inevitably, he is drawn back to America and to music. He tours the South collecting musical knowledge so that he will be able to compose a uniquely American and Black music. But his idyll is shattered when he sees a white lynch mob burn a black man.
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Format: Paperback
I purchased this book several years back, as part of the research for my second book. I cannot recommend any book more highly. Anyone interested at all in African American life from the 1880s to the 1930s (particularly as it was lived in New York City from about 1899 to the Harlem Renaissance) should buy it. There is not a more fascinating autobiography in print anywhere! And the life of this man! He was the founder of the first high school for African Americans in the state of Florida, located in Jacksonville (the high school my own mother would attend); the first African American to pass the bar exam in the state of Florida; part of the first successful African American Broadway composing team (after he left Jacksonville and moved to New York City); composer of the lyrics to, "Lift Every Voice and Sing," the song long considered the African American national anthem (his brother Rosamond composed the music); a consulate in Nicaragua and Venezuela; the first executive secretary of the NAACP, in which capacity he pioneered anti-lynching legislation (though he was unsuccessful in seeing it pass, the effort is described in the book, and is a fascinating lesson in the machinations of Congressional politics in the 1920s); author of groundbreaking fiction such as, "The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man"; author of the nonfiction classic, "Black Manhattan." The list goes on... His accomplishments, his dignity and intelligence were stunning, simply awe inspiring. And it is a real shame, an indication of how troubled our culture is, that Hollywood has never made a movie about his life, and he is barely mentioned as a key figure who shaped American culture (notice I didn't say African American culture, I said AMERICAN CULTURE). To everyone reading this review, BUY THIS BOOK.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
This is not the type of book that will grab you from the beginning and hold you until the end. This is the kind of book that when you sit down to think about it, you'll find that you are, in some instances, like the Ex-Coloured Man.
I had to read this piece for a class. Upon cracking the binding, I was not impressesd. But, as I got deeper into the story, I was captivated. This is the type of work that makes you look at your life and wonder how you would respond in the same situations (and how you had responded in the past). While Johnson didn't give you dramatic build up that writers of today give, he gave an opportuinty for individual soul exploration. I believe that was the point he was trying to make.
"Autobiography of An Ex-Coloured Man" was not the greatest work ever written, but is was one of the most thought-provoking and challenging.
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Format: Paperback
Johnson's novel travels through various African-American societies (New England, Jacksonville, New York City, the Black Belt) in a story of a mulatto caught between two opposing racial identities. The novel is an epic journey (emotionally and physically) of this African-American, who is light enough to "pass" into the white American dominating the turn-of-the century. The Ex-Coloured Man's personal struggles to reconcile his true private self with his public self in a divided and prejudiced society makes this novel an emotional and enlightening read. Johnson takes up the issue of WEB DuBois's double-consciousness, and gives it life in the form of this ambivalent protagonist.
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