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James  Weldon Johnson

Page history last edited by PBworks 17 years, 10 months ago



James Weldon Johnson was a writer, poet and distinguished statesman, born in Jacksonville, Florida, where he and his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, grew up. Their father was head waiter at a resort hotel there and their mother, who had been born in the Bahamas and educated in New York City, was the first black woman to teach in a public school in Florida. Their parents were both talented musically and the family often made music together. James attended Atlanta University and, on graduation, became principal of Stanton Grammar School in Jacksonville. Over the years, he became a figure in the struggle of African Americans for equal rights. He was the executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People from 1920 through 1931.


In Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Black Man the author James Weldon Johnson tells the story of a black man passing as a white man. That is the major theme in this novel; “passing” in the early 1900’s in order to escape the horrors of racism towards the black race to succeed in white America. There are crisis throughout the novel centers on the ex-colored man discovering his identity, idea of the novel. From the book, “I finally made up my mind I would neither disclaim the black race nor claim the white race; but that I would change my name raise a moustache, and let the world take me for what it would;…”(Chapter 10). By saying this, the ex-colored man can live his life free of fear from the white man and lead a better life than a black would. There are many causes that lead to his reasons for passing as a white man. Many influences give the idea onto the character, that in order to be successful in life you must be white. Since the ex-colored man was well educated unlike most, of the black culture it was easy for him to adapt to the white culture. In the book the ex-colored man experiences the good and the bad of both races and I really felt there was a meaning in the end of the story of what it meant to be white or black.


The issue of Jim Crow laws were state and local laws enacted in the Southern and border states of the United States and in force between 1876 and 1964 that required racial segregation, especially of African-Americans, in all public facilities. "Jim Crow period" or the "Jim Crow era" refers to the time during which this practice occurred. The most important laws required that public schools be segregated by race, and that most public places (including trains and buses) have separate facilities for whites and blacks. School segregation was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education. All the other Jim Crow laws were repealed by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


Some issues that occurred was that whites were treating African Americans different depending there color. If they seemed white they were one of them and had no idea they were black. But James Johnson let them know everybody he was black and let the whites assume he was one of them. Today racism is much more subtle then it used to be, but it still walks among us. Many Black Americans do not feel that they receive fair treatment in the United States. But those who African Americans who occupy higher statues enjoy greater opportunities, and they also face less discrimination.

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