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(02/04/2008) The Autobiography Of An Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson. Boston. 1912. Sherman French & Company. keywords: Black Autobiography Literature.

While this novel in the form of a first person narrative by James Weldon Johnson was published in the early 1900s, it has plenty to say on the subject of race and identity that speaks directly to the contemporary reader.

FROM THE PUBLISHER -

   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-COLORED MAN became a groundbreaking document of Afro-American culture; the first first-person novel ever written by a black, it became an eloquent model for later novelists ranging from Zora Neale Hurston to Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison. Narrated by a man whose light skin enables him to 'pass' for white, the novel describes a journey through the strata of black society at the turn of the century - from a cigar factory in Jacksonville to an elite gambling club in New York, from genteel aristocrats to the musicians who hammered out the rhythms of ragtime. THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN EX-COLORED MAN is a complex and moving examination of the question of race and an unsparing look at what it meant to forge an identity as a man in a culture that recognized nothing but color.

James Weldon Johnson was a writer, poet and distinguished statesman, born in Jacksonville, Florida, where he and his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, grew up. Their father was head waiter at a resort hotel there and their mother, who had been born in the Bahamas and educated in New York City, was the first black woman to teach in a public school in Florida. Their parents were both talented musically and the family often made music together. James attended Atlanta University and, on graduation, became principal of Stanton Grammar School in Jacksonville. Over the years, he became a figure in the struggle of African Americans for equal rights. He was the executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People from 1920 through 1931. In 1900 he and his brother J. Rosamond Johnson wrote a song in celebration to be sung by school children. That song, 'Lift Every Voice and Sing,' much to their surprise, became the 'Negro National Anthem' and is still being sung throughout the country. Johnson contributed articles regularly to The Crisis. In 1927, he published the BOOK OF AMERICAN NEGRO POETRY. Dr. James Weldon Johnson was appointed consul to Venezuela. His autobiography is called ALONG THIS WAY: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF JAMES WELDON JOHNSON, published in 1933. BLACK MANHATTAN, THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN EX-COLORED MAN, and GOD'S TROMBONES are three of his most famous works.

 

 

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