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Unformatted text preview: The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man [James Weldon Johnson] Boston: Sherman, F rench & Company, 1912 Copyright, 1912 PREFACE This vivid and startlingly new picture of conditions brought about by the race question in the United States makes no special plea for the Negro, but shows in a dispassionate, though sympathetic, manner conditions as they actually exist between the whites and blacks to-day. Special pleas have already been made for and against the Negro in hundreds of books, but in these books either his virtues or his vices have been exaggerated. This is because w riters, in nearly every instance, have treated the colored American as a whole; each has taken some one group of the race to prove his case. Not before has a composite and proportionate presentation of the entire race, embracing all of its various groups and elements, showing their relations with each other and to the whites, been made. I t is very likely that the Negroes of the United States have a fairly correct idea of what the white people of the country think of them, for that opinion has for a long time been and is still being constantly stated; but they are themselves more or less a sphinx to the whites. I t is curiously interesting and even vitally important to know what are the thoughts of ten millions of them concerning the people among whom they live. I n these pages it is as though a veil had been drawn aside: the reader is given a view of the inner life of the Negro in America, is initiated into the "free-masonry," as it were, of the race. These pages also reveal the unsuspected fact that prejudice against the Negro is exerting a pressure, which, in New York and other large cities where the opportunity is open, is actually and constantly forcing an unascertainable number of fair- complexioned colored people over into the white race. In this book the reader is given a glimpse behind the scenes of this race-drama which is being here enacted,--he is taken upon an elevation where he can catch a bird's-eye view of the conflict which is being waged. T HE PUBL ISHERS. CHAPTER I I know that in w riting the following pages I am divulging the great secret of my life, the secret which for some years I have guarded far more carefully than any of my earthly possessions ; and it is a curious A }AE *@M * < study to me to analyze the motives which prompt me to do it. I feel that I am led by the same impulse which forces the unfound-out criminal to take somebody into his confidence, although he knows that the act is liable M M , even almost certain , to lead to his undoing. I know that I am playing with fire, and I feel the thrill , which accompanies that most fascinating pastime; and, back of it all, I think I find a sort of savage and diabolical desire to gather up all the little tragedies of my life, and turn them into a practical joke on society....
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- Winter '10