James Weldon Johnson Essay

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James Weldon Johnson James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938), was a highly talented and celebrated African American writer. He was a poet, songwriter, novelist, literary critic, and essayist. Along with his wide-ranging literary accomplishments, Johnson also served as a school principal, professor of literature at Fisk University, attorney, a diplomatic consul for the United States in Venezuelaand Nicaragua, and secretary for the NAACP from 1920-1930. He is considered one of the founders of the Harlem Renaissance and the first "modern" African American.

Johnson's primary concerns were with the black writer. This included what the black author needs to know and what he must do in order to produce quality work. Johnson's ideas on blackness
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Along with this viewpoint, he stessed black distinctiveness within notions of spirituality and creativity. In much of his works, this idea of black distinctiveness was paralled with the legitimacy of black literary independence, another concept of which he was a proponent.

While Johnson was a highly celebrated and versatile literary figure, his most well known work is The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man . Even though this title suggests that this work was his own story, it was actually a novel, the first African-American one to mask itself as an autobiography. In this novel, the illegitimate son of a southern white man and his mulatto mistress struggles to find his identity and place in the world. Being light-skinned, he does not discover his black blood until he is segregated from the white students in his school. As he ages, he leaves the south to discover his identity. His travels lead him to New York City as well as Europe. The narrator, who is never named, struggles with his mixed heritage and concludes that he must decide whether to embrace his African-American self and or pass for white and devote his life to accumulating wealth. His first attempt is to be a proud black man and adopt the struggle for racial justice. After witnessing a devastating lynching, however, he reverses his original course and focuses on passing for white. In doing so, he travels and
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