The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man is a revolutionary document of Afro-American culture: the first first-person novel ever written by a black, it became a powerful model for later novelists Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and Ralph Ellison.
Johnson's resolutely candid novel gave many white readers their first glimpse of the double standard that ruled the lives of black people in modern America.
Narrated by a man whose light skin enables him to "pass" for white, a young man finds himself faced with the dilemma of embracing his blackness and continuing on a brilliant career as a musician, or "passing" as a white man and earning a place of mediocrity within white society.
The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man is a complex and heartbreaking examination of the question of race and an unsparing look at what it meant to forge an identity as a man in an America that recognized nothing but color.
JAMES WELDON JOHNSON (1871-1938) was a prominent American writer, diplomat, academic, attorney, editor, and civil rights activist, and was known during the Harlem Renaissance for his poems, novels, and anthologies collecting both poems and spirituals of black culture. Born in Jacksonville, Florida, Johnson was educated by his mother and attended Clark Atlanta University. Johnson became the first black person to pass the Bar in Florida since Reconstruction. After campaigning for Theodore Roosevelt in 1904, he was appointed consul in Venezuela and Nicaragua, serving until 1913. After moving to New York, Johnson became active in the NAACP and was elected its head, where he lobbied passionately for anti-lynching laws to be passed.