The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man


First published anonymously in 1912, this resolutely unsentimental novel gave many white readers their first glimpse of the double standards - and double consciousness - experienced by 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 pioneering document of African-American culture and 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 colour.

About the author

James Weldon Johnson

James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) was a novelist, poet, lawyer, editor and ethnomusicologist, and co-author of the hymn 'Lift Every Voice and Sing', which is informally known as the Black national anthem in the USA. Born in Jacksonville, Florida, he was educated at Atlanta and Columbia Universities and was the first Black lawyer admitted to the Florida bar. He was also, for a time, a songwriter in New York, American consul in Venezuela and Nicaragua, executive secretary of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and professor of creative literature at Fisk University. His other books include an autobiography, Along This Way, and God's Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse.
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