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3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (2,500 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: James Weldon Johnson Narrator: Bill Andrew Quinn Publisher: Blackstone Audio Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: December 2011 ISBN: 9781482981810
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James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man takes place in post Reconstruction era America and follows the story of a young biracial male. Johnson poses a complex dilemma: because the “Ex-Colored Man,” which is the only name by which the protagonist is referred, represents what, at the time was, a social contradiction of race and culture, he is forced to choose which aspect of his heritage to publicly express. His options are to embrace his black heritage and culture, or to pass as a white man cloaked in middle-class, mediocre obscurity. Johnson’s novel explores racial tensions in late nineteenth and early twentieth century culture through this poignant coming of age story.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Johnson’s theme of moral cowardice sets his tragic story of a mulatto in the United States above other sentimental narratives. The unnamed narrator, the offspring of a black mother and white father, tells of his coming-of-age at the beginning of the 20th century. Light-skinned enough to pass for white but emotionally tied to his mother’s heritage, he ends up a failure in his own eyes after he chooses to follow the easier path while witnessing a white mob set fire to a black man…Recommended.”

    Library Journal

  • “This remarkable man left a mark on the 20th century that goes beyond the boundary of race.” 

    Amazon.com, praise for the author

Listener Opinions

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Leslie | 2/18/2014

    " I've enjoyed putting this man 'on trial' when teaching this. Defenders, prosecutors, the whole nine... "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Kelley | 2/15/2014

    " I didn't come away from this story with any particular admiration for Johnson, nor was it particularly well-told, but it was an interesting glimpse of a man trying to live to the highest standard he could in a society that begrudged him the right. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Olivia | 2/14/2014

    " I liked the author's voice but the events of his life weren't all that interesting. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Liz | 2/13/2014

    " I hated the narrator. He just went on and on about thinks I did not really care about. I liked it a lot more at the beginning but then it just got so boring and my teacher said the climax was during the tenth chapter but I honestly didn't even notice anything that happened at all. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Kim | 2/9/2014

    " American history....early 1900s Northeast and Southern US...1912 book written anonymously from the point of view of a light skinned 'coloured'. Interesting insights of the day. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Fairelight Silverwings | 2/7/2014

    " I love this book... enlightening... fascinating. Worth reading over again every few years. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Shaheed Bhagat Singh | 2/4/2014

    " Another semifictional memoir featuring the Black Belt Nation "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Dominic | 2/1/2014

    " Johnson called this a "human document" more than a "novel." This may make this short novel important in the larger narrative of African American literature, but it is hardly inspiring or beautifully written. Overall quite draggy and way too much first person exposition. I did this. I did that. Then I did this. Skip this "human document," and read the introduction instead. Then go read some Toni Morrison. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Jennifer | 1/31/2014

    " Easy read, a very interesting story. Couldn't put the book down. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jon Shaw | 1/25/2014

    " I can't decide if the author makes enough sense, or if his pandering to White Southerners near the end is enough to just piss me off "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Olivia Bethea | 1/25/2014

    " I would give this book a 4.3/5 for sure. I enjoyed everything from the fluid writing style to what the writing actually details. The story itself- being a biracial (but seemingly Caucasian) man in a heavily prejudice society- is great and the interprosed comments on society are equally as engaging. The idea actually reminds me a bit of Gatsby because the narrator is thrown into a different world and just kind of talks about what its like. I prefer The Autobiography to Gatsby though. It's riskier and makes greater observations. However, the narrator took some getting used to. He showed some characteristics which I felt were inappropriate. As he comments on blacks he uses third person and pretty much removes himself from the social group. Often, I want to remind him that he too is black and should check his vanity, but even still he's able to raise remarkable questions and draft intuitive observations that eventually lead me to better accept his personality. Overall, it's a good book and a fairly simple read, so if you're interested, try it and then recommend something for me to read :) "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Clare | 1/23/2014

    " Woe betide the reader who reads The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man too literally; the meat of this novel lies in its irony, with a deeply racist and self-loathing protagonist. Historically significant. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Kyle | 1/23/2014

    " Book doesn't seem to have much point until the hard hitting ending. Great reflection by the author and can really be meaningful to the person reading it if read in the right time and place in their life. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Kristen | 1/20/2014

    " It was one of the most beautifully written books I'd ever read. Despite it being fiction, I know some of what happened in the book happened in real life. It was heartbreaking, but inspiring, too, to read about it. It put a lot in perspective for me. It was simply one of the best books I've ever read. Johnson's history of being a poet definitely made sense. This isn't a book of poetry, but he writes with such fluidity that it is only obvious. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Isabel | 1/19/2014

    " This book was not what I had expected it to be. I enjoyed the Arthur's writing style, however, his observations of what the African Americans had to endure is no surprise. The fact that he was lite enough to pass as white and he often did, is a choice many A.A. did not have. They had to learn to deal with the contempt the Caucasians had for them than all the way to the present. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Karen | 1/18/2014

    " As a bit of African- American history a very enjoyable read; as a novel, not so much. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Nicci | 1/18/2014

    " This book is interesting, but also reminds me of some of the other books I have read like Up From Slavery and the Diary of Frederick Douglas. He is a very good author. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jon Shaw | 1/14/2014

    " I can't decide if the author makes enough sense, or if his pandering to White Southerners near the end is enough to just piss me off "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Nicole Gervasio | 1/11/2014

    " I'll admit, I initially started reading this not realizing that the "autobiographical" aspects of this novel are entirely fictional inventions. I realized what was going on sometime around when our anti-heroic, somewhat painfully naive narrator opted out of going to either Atlanta University or Harvard for being a cigar roller. The text's quite irony and facetiousness are actually what I appreciated most about it; Johnson cleverly caricatures many tropes of early slave narratives in ways that are provocative rather than offensive or jarring. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Kelley | 1/9/2014

    " I didn't come away from this story with any particular admiration for Johnson, nor was it particularly well-told, but it was an interesting glimpse of a man trying to live to the highest standard he could in a society that begrudged him the right. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Ray | 1/9/2014

    " Well written - though hard to read because of the content - what life was like for an African-American man in the early 1900s. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Cheryl | 1/6/2014

    " Amazing how the race question hasnt changed much since 1912. I really enjoyed the sociology aspects of this book and it reads pretty smooth "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Liz | 1/6/2014

    " I hated the narrator. He just went on and on about thinks I did not really care about. I liked it a lot more at the beginning but then it just got so boring and my teacher said the climax was during the tenth chapter but I honestly didn't even notice anything that happened at all. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Farrah | 12/29/2013

    " This is quite possibly the best book about identity that I have ever read. The characters are interesting and the plot moves well. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Cheryl | 12/27/2013

    " Amazing how the race question hasnt changed much since 1912. I really enjoyed the sociology aspects of this book and it reads pretty smooth "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Audrey | 12/21/2013

    " Really good style of writing and an important book in history "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Nancy | 12/20/2013

    " A classic tale that details a Black man's choice to let go of his race in order for him to survive in early 20th century United States. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Steph | 12/10/2013

    " I read this book in high school for an assignment. Something about it is so special and so relevant, even now. I highly recommend it. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Uzzie | 12/10/2013

    " A psychological read of what it means to live life along the colorline in America in early twentieth century. Lesson that has stuck with me: Never sell your birthright for "a mess of pottage." "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Ryan | 12/2/2013

    " Shows what it was like to be a light-skinned black man in the early 20th century. I found it very interesting because it shows that often people want us to be something we aren't just to satisfy the masses. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Kim | 11/29/2013

    " American history....early 1900s Northeast and Southern US...1912 book written anonymously from the point of view of a light skinned 'coloured'. Interesting insights of the day. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Jennifer | 11/18/2013

    " Easy read, a very interesting story. Couldn't put the book down. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Mike Duffy | 11/3/2013

    " I read this book for an English course entitled: "The World is a Ghetto." This is an excellent book by James Weldon Johnson. he is also know for writing the "Black National Anthem." "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Avigail | 10/10/2013

    " I recommend reading this in tandem with Langston Hughes' "The Big Sea" "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Kelley | 8/31/2013

    " I didn't come away from this story with any particular admiration for Johnson, nor was it particularly well-told, but it was an interesting glimpse of a man trying to live to the highest standard he could in a society that begrudged him the right. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Leah | 8/29/2013

    " This is quite a dry book, and the language a bit wooden, but it gives great insight into the experience of African Americans in the early 1900's. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Steph | 7/15/2013

    " I read this book in high school for an assignment. Something about it is so special and so relevant, even now. I highly recommend it. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Kila | 7/5/2013

    " I really liked this one apart from the last chapter which kinda ruined it for me. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Jessica | 6/7/2013

    " A classic example of a narrative of passing from the Harlem Renaissance. Interesting, but historical context is necessary. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Bernadette | 1/30/2013

    " I think without the forward, I would not have attended to the "teaching moments" during the reading. I really enjoyed the look at the life, trials, and tribulations of blacks ages ago. it was also an interesting view of life during that time period. Quick, easy read. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Tess | 1/29/2013

    " Amazingly ahead of its time! "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Karen | 12/17/2012

    " As a bit of African- American history a very enjoyable read; as a novel, not so much. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Mark | 12/9/2012

    " A sad and tragic book about class, race relations, the pressure to "pass" and the unspeakably horrible price of "passing." "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Rylan McQuade | 10/7/2012

    " I'm really torn between three and four stars for this book. I really enjoyed the story as a whole, especially the part the main character spends in Europe with his millionaire friend. The book does a great job overall dealing with the "race" issue in the US and showing different perspectives. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Kati Reinke | 9/24/2012

    " I loved the parts about his childhood, his mother, and his fascination with Shiny; his realizations about race--his races--are more powerful when he talks about how he understood (or didn't understand) them as a child. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Owen | 9/22/2012

    " Read along with "Up From Slavery" in college. This fictitious story by a luminary of the Civil Rights Movement, James Weldon Johnson, taught me much about post reconstruction America and the pressures faced by the forefathers of the Movement. I'd recommend reading "Up From Slavery" first. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Phillip | 8/27/2012

    " just re-read this classic and loved it all over again. the prose is lean and he gets into some really interesting dialectics on race that still hold up some 50 years later. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Ryan | 7/22/2012

    " Shows what it was like to be a light-skinned black man in the early 20th century. I found it very interesting because it shows that often people want us to be something we aren't just to satisfy the masses. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Mark | 7/15/2012

    " A sad and tragic book about class, race relations, the pressure to "pass" and the unspeakably horrible price of "passing." "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Steven | 5/15/2012

    " The thought of having to choose a side intrigues me. It's not like picking a team on the playground. It's so permanent. Why would people put others in a position where they would have to deny a portion of their heritage? "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Ryan | 4/28/2012

    " Shows what it was like to be a light-skinned black man in the early 20th century. I found it very interesting because it shows that often people want us to be something we aren't just to satisfy the masses. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 David | 4/10/2012

    " I don't remember much about this book. It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't profound. It had references to W.E.B. Dubois' theory of Double-Consciousness, especially with the character being half white. The protagonist's conflict throughout was living between black and white worlds. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Fairelight Silverwings | 3/29/2012

    " I love this book... enlightening... fascinating. Worth reading over again every few years. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Rylan McQuade | 8/1/2011

    " I'm really torn between three and four stars for this book. I really enjoyed the story as a whole, especially the part the main character spends in Europe with his millionaire friend. The book does a great job overall dealing with the "race" issue in the US and showing different perspectives. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Stephanie | 5/8/2011

    " I read this book in high school for an assignment. Something about it is so special and so relevant, even now. I highly recommend it. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Greta | 4/25/2011

    " The title makes sense in the end which is something I won't reveal, but urge you to discover. In a collection of Negro Classics, James Weldon Johnson offers a unique perspective on life in the USA after the Civil war. Short and well worth reading. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Kyle | 2/4/2011

    " Book doesn't seem to have much point until the hard hitting ending. Great reflection by the author and can really be meaningful to the person reading it if read in the right time and place in their life. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jon | 9/27/2010

    " I can't decide if the author makes enough sense, or if his pandering to White Southerners near the end is enough to just piss me off "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Barb | 6/14/2010

    " This was recommended reading tied in with some graduate work. Boy, was it interesting and well-written. I'm glad I read it! "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Liz | 5/3/2010

    " I hated the narrator. He just went on and on about thinks I did not really care about. I liked it a lot more at the beginning but then it just got so boring and my teacher said the climax was during the tenth chapter but I honestly didn't even notice anything that happened at all. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Leah | 3/16/2010

    " This is quite a dry book, and the language a bit wooden, but it gives great insight into the experience of African Americans in the early 1900's. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Cheryl | 1/19/2010

    " Amazing how the race question hasnt changed much since 1912. I really enjoyed the sociology aspects of this book and it reads pretty smooth "

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About the Author
Author James Weldon Johnson

James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) was an American author, politician, diplomat, critic, journalist, poet, anthologist, educator, lawyer, songwriter, and early civil rights activist. James is remembered best for his leadership within the NAACP, as well as for his writing, which includes novels, poems, and collections of folklore. His most famous book is The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. He also published The Book of American Negro Spirituals, Black Manhattan, and Negro Americans, What Now? One of the first African American professors at New York University, James also served as a professor of creative literature and writing at Fisk University.

About the Narrator

Bill Andrew Quinn is a veteran in the voice-over world. In addition to hundreds of commercials and audiobooks, his many credits include work on The SopranosThe Montel Williams Show, and Showtime at the Apollo, as well as characters for Grand Theft Auto IV and other video games. Totinos, Corona, Lincoln-Mercury, and McDonald’s are among his many television campaign clients.