James Weldon Johnson Biography


James Weldon Johnson's career was one of extraordinary range, spanning the worlds of diplomacy (as U.S. consul in Venezuela and Nicaragua), politics (as Secretary of the NAACP), journalism (as founder of one newspaper and longtime editor of another), musical theater (as lyricist for the Broadway songwriting team of Cole and Johnson Brothers), and literature (as novelist, poet, and anthologist). At the dawning of what would become the modern civil rights movement, he forged a record of accomplishment that defied the odds.

While a freshman in college, Johnson took a trip throughout the rural South, igniting his interest in the African American folk tradition. Later he would incorporate the rhythms and ideals of these traditions in his uniquely beautiful poetry. After graduating from the University, Johnson first became a high school principal; then in 1906, he accepted the position of U.S. Consul in Venezuela and later in Nicaragua. While overseas, Johnson had several poems published in the United States.In 1912, James published anonymously his novel, The Autobiography of an Ex- Colored Man This novel tells the story of a mulatto giving up his racial roots for the comfort of being a mediocre, middle-class white person. The book is very interesting

The Autobiography of an Ex- Colored Man is about a young man born in the southern state of Georgia, but was raised in the northern part of the country, which is frequently referred to as Negro friendly. Growing up he didn’t know if he was black or white.He lives alone with his mother and where a kind white man used to visit them., he knows that she received secret money from the man in Georgia and supported them . Soon after this the boy learned that the white man from Georgia was his father, that this man had moved his mistress and her son to Connecticut when he married a local high-class Southern white woman, and that he had promised to educate his child. This fact just makes the boy even more confused then ever.

The crisis throughout the novel centers on the narrator's discovering his identity. The ex-colored man lives between a black and white societies until he witnesses a lynching of a black man that ends with the man's being burned alive. He feels ashamed of the black race because he believes that they would allow themselves to be treated worse than animals and in that his country would allow a human being to be burned alive. Because of this killing, the ex-colored man declares that he would neither disclaim the black race nor claim the white race. He ends his days living a comfortable, life passing as a white man. However, at times, the ex-colored man regrets that he failed to join with the black men who were making history and a race..

The ex-colored man goes to his grave an ex-colored man, I believe that if the ex-colored man did not pass for a white man than he probably would have died a black man. In the ex-colored man’s early life, his mother does not show him his cultural background and I believe that this adds to the boys identity crisis. Most of experiences that the ex-colored man faced would not have had such a big impact on him if he did not pass for a white man. At the end of chapter one, the boy mother informs him that he in fact a black man.

Black Code laws was going on when The Autobiography of an Ex- Colored Man was written Black code laws controlled almost every aspect of life was regulated, including the freedom to roam. Often blacks were prohibited from entering towns without permission. In Opelousas, Louisiana, blacks needed permission from their employer to enter the town. A note was required, and it had to state the nature and length of the visit. Any black found without a note after ten o'clock at night was subject to imprisonment. Residency within towns and cities was also discouraged. Local ordinances in Louisiana made it almost impossible for blacks to live within the towns or cities. Residency was only possible if a white employer agreed to take responsibility for his employee's conduct.

The Autobiography of an Ex- Colored Man and The Color of Water are both alike. Ruth McBride was a religious woman. She loved going to church. Religion played a big part role in her life. She put religion and education before anything else. The only thing she would look forward to all week was going to church on Sunday. But religion didn't always play a positive role in her life. Made her feel different from others. Religion made her feel alienated, but it was her protector, and her love. Religion didn't always play a positive aspect in her life. She felt different from everyone at the time. Even Jewish people were made fun of, and ridiculed at one time. She would get made fun of at school, so she wouldn't socialize with anyone. Ruth didn’t sow that she was white. Unlike Ruth the doesn’t know that he is black and that’s how James McBride was, he didn’t understand that his mother was white because she never brought it up. Both of these character relate because it shows how race can truly determine who you are as a person. If you don’t know who you are and where you come from, than you don’t know where you are going.

This book was originally published anonymously because this book was written when the world was not as understanding about different races being mixed as they are in today’s society. Although the world is not the same we still have racism in the world except it not as bad as before. If James Weldon Johnson would have revealed who he was than the public probably wasn’t going to accept it, because no one had ever talked about.

We live in a world of differences, that’s why sometimes race can play as a major factor in our lives.I believe that if the boy would have known from the start that he was a black man then his life would have been a lot better. He would have been prepared for the world and would have known who he was as a person and wouldn’t had to search for the answers all of his life.

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