During another challenging year and the ongoing pandemic, students at 20 high schools across the state, including Kewaunee and Southern Door, have been reading and responding to James Weldon Johnson’s 1912 novel, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, as part of the 17th annual Great World Texts (GWT) in Wisconsin program (humanities.wisc.edu/great-world-texts).
Known only as the “Ex-Colored Man,” the novel’s protagonist is forced to choose between celebrating his African American heritage or “passing” as white in a rapidly changing post-Reconstruction America.
First published anonymously in 1912, the novel, written by a Black American author and civil-rights activist, examines racial violence, social injustice and the controversial practice of passing.
Johnson’s novel and the associated programming and curriculum help students and teachers to compare, discuss and explore personal and social identity and the continuities between the past and their own present through the interpretation of literature.
During March and April, more than a thousand students will convene for a virtual GWT Month conference to discuss the novel, and schools will share student projects created in response to it.