Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man


James Weldon Johnson

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Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man Characters

The Narrator or “Ex-Colored Man”

The unnamed protagonist and narrator of The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man is a racially ambiguous businessman with a remarkable aptitude for music, languages, and navigating various cultural and racial communities. He is born in… read analysis of The Narrator or “Ex-Colored Man”

The Narrator’s Mother

A black sewing-girl either employed or enslaved by the prominent Georgia family that includes the narrator’s father. After moving to Connecticut with the narrator to ensure that he can get a quality education, she… read analysis of The Narrator’s Mother

The Narrator’s Father

A seemingly powerful white man from a prominent Southern family with a taste for shiny shoes and expensive jewelry, the narrator’s father only appears vaguely in his childhood memories and then twice more in the… read analysis of The Narrator’s Father


The narrator’s schoolmate, who is by far the best student in their school and later becomes a prominent professor. The narrator immediately notices his “black as night” skin and shining features. At their primary… read analysis of  “Shiny”

The Millionaire

A mysterious, cultured, incredibly wealthy man who becomes the narrator’s “friend” or “employer” (depending on the context) after watching him play at the “Club.” The millionaire asks the narrator to play for his private… read analysis of The Millionaire
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The Narrator’s Wife / The Singer

A blonde-haired, “dazzlingly white” singer who meets the narrator when he is already living as a white man but still playing ragtime. He loves her voice, she loves his piano playing, and they soon… read analysis of The Narrator’s Wife / The Singer

The Music Teacher

He teaches the narrator how to play classical piano and read sheet music (which the narrator rejects at first). Gradually, he becomes an important mentor for the narrator, fostering his interest in a music career… read analysis of The Music Teacher

The Violinist

A girl a few years older than the narrator, whom he accompanies during a concert and quickly falls in love with. After their resoundingly successful concert, she actually kisses him in excitement—but he pulls… read analysis of The Violinist

The Second Pullman Porter

After the narrator’s savings are stolen, this second porter offers him $15, advice about finding hotel work, and secret passage in the laundry basket of his train car. Years later, at a party in… read analysis of The Second Pullman Porter

The Washington Physician

An imposing and regal black man whom the narrator encounters on his ship from Liverpool to Boston. The physician was born into slavery but managed to study at Howard University and rise into the Northern… read analysis of The Washington Physician

John Brown

An eloquent, bombastic preacher, John Brown captivates the crowd at the “big meeting” in Georgia by using his voice like an instrument during his sermon. He is also the only character in the book identified… read analysis of John Brown

“Singing Johnson”

The short, one-eyed chorus leader at the “big meeting,” who has memorized hundreds of hymns that he begins to sing at appropriate moments in John Brown’s sermon. He offers something of a foil to… read analysis of “Singing Johnson”
Minor Characters
 “Red Head”
An older, unintelligent but strong white boy in the narrator’s class; they become friends because of their complementary talents. In a characteristic example of white privilege, “Red Head” decides to skip college and get a job through family connections at a bank.
The First Pullman Porter
A black railroad worker (Pullman porter) who guides the narrator around Atlanta’s black neighborhoods and establishments, showing him the segregated South for the first time.
The Atlanta University President
A generous, fatherly figure who welcomes the narrator into Atlanta University and gives a speech to the whole student body. Despite his protectiveness, the narrator is afraid to reach out to him after his savings are stolen.
The Landlady’s Husband
A cigar roller and Cuban émigré who actively funds the Cuban rebels, speaks excellent English, and finds the narrator work in the Jacksonville cigar factory.
The Pianist at the “Club”
A self-taught ragtime musician who plays by ear and stuns the narrator, who then insists on learning to play ragtime for himself.
The Rich Widow
A white woman of about 35 who always comes to the “Club” with her companion, but later decides to make him jealous by dating the narrator. When he finds out, her companion shoots her, and the narrator feels horrified and partially responsible for her death.
The Rich Widow’s Companion
A mysterious, “well set up, very black young fellow” who wears extravagantly wealthy clothes and always goes to the “Club” with the Rich Widow. When he finds out that she has been secretly seeing the narrator on the side, he murders her.