Sunday, January 24, 2016

Good Read for an Ice Storm

The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I completed reading The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man overnight. It is a short read at about 140 pages, and free on Kindle.

James Weldon Johnson first published this book anonymously in 1912, to avoid any controversy that might endanger his diplomatic career. And it is actually not an autobiography, but rather historical fiction.

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 and a musician along with his brother Rosamond Johnson.Together the Johnson brothers composed Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing ("The Negro National Anthem"). 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 the vernacular of the early 20th century.

It is an easy book to read, probably more so due to the anonymous characterizations which would not point to the identity of the author.

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