Notes for Essay
James Weldon Johnson - The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored man 1912 Anon. 1927 with credit. Published during "Harlem Renaissance
Johnson was a "Polymath" - multi-talented. Reconstruction period 1877. All free men were giving 40 acres of land but no supplies, money or other resources. US army was sent to the south to protect black before "Reconstruction." He came from a stable family, mother was educated and father was present and healthy growing up in Florida. Was the 1st black man to become a lawyer in the state of Florida. 1896 in an important case, Plessy vs Furgerson. White looking black man was told to change seat on train, led to the beginning of segregation. "Africa" was south of washington sq in NYC. A black "ghetto." Black soldiers from WWI were treated very well in Europe. Began a change in the mindset back at home. Harlem became more "Black" and thus the "Harlem Renaissance" came to. Controversy broke between black writers over the "southern black dialect." Charles W. Chestnut wrote in the english standard and the southern black dialect. Parallel book written by Fredrick Douglas c.1848, narrative told by himself. Look up "Harlem Renaissance."
The Ex-Colored Man’s mother protected him as a child and teenager. Because of the money provided by his father, she had the means to raise him in a different environment than most other blacks. He was exposed to only upper-class blacks and mostly benevolent whites. After his mother’s death, his poor orphan status exposed him to a part of black life unknown to him while living a sheltered life with his mother. He adapted very well to life with lower-class blacks, and was able to move easily between the classes of black society. During this carefree period of his life, he was still able to teach music and attend church, where he came in contact with the upper class blacks. The Ex-Colored man living in an all black community discovered three classes of blacks; the desperate class, the domestic service class, and the independent workman. The Ex-Colored Man believed the desperate class consists of poor blacks that loathe the whites. The domestic service, domestic worker class consists of blacks that work as servants to the whites. The third class consists of well-to-do blacks that had no interaction with the whites. Many white readers, who viewed all blacks as a stereotype of a single class, are unfamiliar with the narrator’s description of class distinctions among blacks. Johnson’s description of the black classes also serves to show that blacks and whites also have the same human tendencies to seek social status.
While playing ragtime at one of the late night hot spots in New York, the Ex-Colored Man caught the attention of a rich white gentleman. The gentleman had a particular liking to the Ex-Colored Man's music which evolved into a particular liking of the Ex-Colored Man himself. The white gentleman hired him to play ragtime piano for guests at parties. Soon the Ex-Colored Man spent most of his time working for the white gentleman, who would have him play ragtime music for hours at a time. He would play until the white gentleman would say “that will do.” The Ex-Colored man would tire after the long hours, but would continue playing as he saw the joy and serenity he brought the white gentleman. The white gentleman frequently "loaned" the Ex-Colored Man out to other people to play at their parties. The gentleman was not exactly “loaning” him out as a piece of property, but simply giving the narrator a broader palette to display his talents. The Ex-Colored man saw how the rich lived; he was thrilled to live in this life style. The Rich White Gentleman absolutely influenced the Ex-Colored Man more than any one else he met. The relationship towards the Rich White Man was not only on a slave/master basis, but also one of friendship. While he was with the white gentleman, the Ex-Colored Man decided he would use his skills to aid in Abolitionism. Even...
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