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The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man Paperback – January 1, 2005
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The narrator's story is a coming-of-age one. He experiences unusual adventures because although his mother was a light-skinned black, he himself looks completely white. He describes his birth, education and travels throughout America and Europe. Sometimes he lives like a wealthy white man with wealthy white men, and sometimes he endures the poverty and discrimination of Southern American blacks. He also lived for a time amongst the criminal elements of New York City. His white skin allows him to move freely wherever he chooses, depending on what identity he wants to explore. He is fortunate to be a musical prodigy and he easily learns languages.
The crisis begins when he falls in love with a white woman...
As he wrote this book anonymously, he created characters who were also anonymous. Of all the dozens of characters in the story there were only about four who had names, some of them nick-names. Even the young man who tells his story has no name.
Much of the story draws from Johnson's personal life as a Civil Rights activist. But unlike Johnson who Attended Atlanta University, the protagonist in the story spent many years in a variety of jobs where he learned various trades and several foreign languages.
Not until the "Ex-colored man" returns to the South knowing he could pass for white, did he begin to deal with the "race problem." But rather than involve himself in the issues of racism, Jim Crow, and the rights of black people, he spent much of his time learning the music and vernacular of the early 20th century.
It is an easy book to read, probably moreso due to the anonymous characterizations which would not point to the identity of the author.
However, once a major decision is made about life it becomes a part of man. He must battle in the darkness. Did I do it right, or did I do it wrong? That is the question that haunts James Weldon Johnson until the end.
James Weldon Johnson, 1871 - 1928
How would you have us, as we are?
Or sinking ‘neath the load we bear?
Our eyes fixed forward on a star?
Or gazing empty at despair?
Rising or falling? Men or things?
With dragging pace or footsteps fleet?
Strong, willing sinews in your wings?
Or tightening chains about your feet? http://www.poets.org