Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

by

James Weldon Johnson

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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 parties and then brings him to Europe, where they spend more than a year. When the narrator decides to return to the United States to compile black folk music, the millionaire argues that he will not be taken seriously and would be “foolish” to try to change white Americans’ prejudice. Even though he is almost always emotionally distant and cannot convince the narrator to stay in Europe, the millionaire is nevertheless his closest friend.

The Millionaire Quotes in Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man quotes below are all either spoken by The Millionaire or refer to The Millionaire. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Racism and the Color Line Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the W.W. Norton edition of Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man published in 2015.
Chapter 9 Quotes

He seated himself at the piano, and, taking the theme of my ragtime, played it through first in straight chords; then varied and developed it through every known musical form. I sat amazed. I had been turning classic music into ragtime, a comparatively easy task; and this man had taken ragtime and made it classic. The thought came across me like a flash—It can be done, why can't I do it? From that moment my mind was made up. I clearly saw the way of carrying out the ambition I had formed when a boy.

Related Characters: The Narrator or “Ex-Colored Man” (speaker), The Millionaire
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:

“My boy, you are by blood, by appearance, by education, and by tastes a white man. Now, why do you want to throw your life away amidst the poverty and ignorance, in the hopeless struggle, of the black people of the United States? Then look at the terrible handicap you are placing on yourself by going home and working as a Negro composer; you can never be able to get the hearing for your work which it might deserve. I doubt that even a white musician of recognized ability could succeed there by working on the theory that American music should be based on Negro themes. Music is a universal art; anybody's music belongs to everybody; you can't limit it to race or country. Now, if you want to become a composer, why not stay right here in Europe?”

Related Characters: The Millionaire (speaker), The Narrator or “Ex-Colored Man”
Page Number: 75
Explanation and Analysis:

I could see, in spite of the absolute selfishness upon which it was based, that there was reason and common sense in [his argument]. I began to analyze my own motives, and found that they, too, were very largely mixed with selfishness. Was it more a desire to help those I considered my people or more a desire to distinguish myself, which was leading me back to the United States? That is a question I have never definitely answered.

Related Characters: The Narrator or “Ex-Colored Man” (speaker), The Millionaire
Page Number: 77
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Millionaire Character Timeline in Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

The timeline below shows where the character The Millionaire appears in Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 8
Racism and the Color Line Theme Icon
Collective Progress and Individual Achievement Theme Icon
Music, Emotion, and American Culture Theme Icon
...over five dollars every night he came. One night, the man (later referred to as the millionaire ) called him over and offered a job playing for a dinner party at his... (full context)
Racism and the Color Line Theme Icon
Music, Emotion, and American Culture Theme Icon
Secrecy, Purity, and Origins Theme Icon
...and, afterward, the guests enthusiastically declared him “the most unique entertainment they had ‘ever’ enjoyed.” The millionaire gave him 20 dollars and offered to hire him for the future, so long as... (full context)
Racism and the Color Line Theme Icon
Music, Emotion, and American Culture Theme Icon
...The man kept shooting; the narrator ran outside and walked frantically until he ran into the millionaire in a cab. He explained what happened and his employer decided to take him, instead... (full context)
Chapter 9
Racism and the Color Line Theme Icon
Music, Emotion, and American Culture Theme Icon
...the narrator only in his broken high school French). The next day, they went shopping— the millionaire bought the narrator extravagant clothes, treating him “as an equal, not as a servant” and... (full context)
Racism and the Color Line Theme Icon
Collective Progress and Individual Achievement Theme Icon
When he did not know the millionaire ’s whereabouts, the narrator spent his days wandering around and his nights taking language lessons—he... (full context)
Racism and the Color Line Theme Icon
Eventually, the narrator’s “benefactor,” the millionaire , declared that they were leaving Paris. The narrator notes that he must have enjoyed... (full context)
Racism and the Color Line Theme Icon
Music, Emotion, and American Culture Theme Icon
...yearned to go back to the United States, the narrator realized he needed to leave his millionaire , whom he loved dearly—but who was clearly only using him to occupy “all in... (full context)
Racism and the Color Line Theme Icon
Collective Progress and Individual Achievement Theme Icon
This was the first time that the millionaire had ever mentioned race—it turned out that “he was a man entirely free from prejudice,... (full context)
Racism and the Color Line Theme Icon
Collective Progress and Individual Achievement Theme Icon
Neither of them, the millionaire believed, could do anything about “their wrongs,” so the narrator “would be foolish to unnecessarily... (full context)
Racism and the Color Line Theme Icon
Collective Progress and Individual Achievement Theme Icon
Music, Emotion, and American Culture Theme Icon
The narrator was surprised and felt paralyzed, seeing the sense in the millionaire ’s argument “in spite of the absolute selfishness upon which it was based.” He wondered... (full context)