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James Weldon Johnson

James Weldon Johnson photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1932. (Van Vechten Collection/Library of Congress; public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Major works:
The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored ManGod’s Trombone: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse • “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing”

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Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

James Weldon Johnson

It is a difficult thing for a white man to learn what a colored man really thinks; because, generally, with the latter an additional and different light must be brought to bear on what he thinks; and his thoughts are often influenced by considerations so delicate and subtle that it would be impossible for him to confess or explain them to one of the opposite race. This gives to every colored man, in proportion to his intellectuality, a sort of dual personality; there is one phase of him which is disclosed only in the freemasonry of his own race. I have often watched with interest and sometimes with amazement even ignorant colored men under cover of broad grins and minstrel antics maintain this dualism in the presence of white men.
I believe it to be a fact that the colored people of this country know and understand the white people better than the white people know and understand them.

Read a passage from Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson
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