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Johnson’s Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man: Unifying the Races - Assimilation Versus Segregation

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Unifying the Races – Assimilation Versus Segregation

When the Thirteenth Amendment was signed and officially ended slavery, one would think that this would begin the steady reunifying of the union. However, after the slaves were free, American entered a state of living that would continue to divide the people of this country. This state of living was segregation; it caused the prevention of values, cultural beliefs, as well as, societal opportunities from intertwining between the White and African Americans. The interlinking of these elements of the two races is known as assimilation. An important aspect of the rebuilding of the Union would come down to first understanding how segregation affected the citizen, followed by the push for assimilation, and finally the importance of assimilating the races.

Segregation divided the races both physically and psychologically. Physically, by preventing blacks and whites from learning and working with one another as well as dining in the same establishments or even using the same public services. The segregation in the learning systems of blacks and whites caused for a great unbalance in knowledge between the two races. W.E.B. Du Bois spoke of the drastic disadvantage of the African American student by the segregation of the education system. Du Bois wrote,

“The Negro colleges, hurriedly founded, were inadequately equipped, illogically distributed, and varying efficiency and grade; the normal and high schools were doing little more than common school work , and the common schools were training but a third of the children who ought to be in them, and training those too poorly.”(717, Du Bois)

By this line, Du Bois is evaluating how Africans American learning places had a lack of resources and educators capable of providing knowledge to the youth of the black race. This was a large problem of segregation because many African Americans saw it obvious that without the proper education, the black race could never truly establish itself as independent race equal to the status of the white American. Besides the educational disadvantage caused by segregation, it also penetrated its affects as deep as into the African American family itself. In this instance, segregation caused for a divide of the race by skin color. Hence, African American families with varying skin complexions could find themselves in tear between the acceptance of whites and their own race. For example, In Jessie Redmon Fauset’s novel, “Plum Bun”, she writes about an African American family who are forced to leave there home in pairs because half of their family has dark skin and the other half has light skin. The lighter member of this family is welcome to benefits that are denied to the other simply because of their skin. In the novel Fauset writes, “… the great rewards of life – riches – glamour, and pleasure, — are for white-skinned people only. Secondly, that Junius and Virginia were denied these privileges because they were dark” (966, Fauset). This illustrates how segregation prevents the African American from living their lives with equal comfort and opportunity as the white citizen. This truth would work against the structure of the African American family by forcing a fraction for of race to choose between the comfort and privilege of the majority or the unity of their own race.

​The process of Assimilation is deeper than the ending of segregation; for it would it cause for the structural foundation of society to shatter and be rebuilt. In saying this, it is understood that the division of the black and white races of America is not given rise by the notion of segregation. It is birthed by the stigma that one group Is better and entitled to more than the other. This belief is what prevents the two sides from truly becoming a unit; it is what separates the cultures, values, and opportunities. Several African American scholars have referred to this boundary as the “Veil”. The veil is not one of literal existence; however, it is one of cognitive actuality. This cognitive actuality prevents the two sides from entirely understanding one another in order to become unified. Author and Civil Rights Activist, James Weldon Johnson took action to remove this veil in 1923 when he wrote “The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man.” In his autobiography he wrote, “it is as though a veil ha been drawn aside: the reader is given a view of the inner life of the Negro in American (793, Johnson). His purpose for writing this novel was to provide an illustration of a life of African American males; in doing so, he depicted the abundance of struggle, knowledge, and love that is the African American life. Johnson’s Autobiography of an Ex-Colored man allow for white Americans to form sympathy for African Americans by learning of the impact prejudice and racism has on the black man. This is an important step towards assimilation because it would allow White Americans to see the likeness that all people share.

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​Finally, the only way for America to truly become a great country is by understanding the importance and power of assimilation. The importance if the unified states is that together we allow each other to grow and learn. Booker T. Washington wrote,

“…Let us pray God, will come, in a blotting out of sectional differences and racial animosities and suspicions…this coupled with our material prosperity, will bring into our beloved South a new heaven and a new earth” (Washington, 575).

This new heaven and earth, Washington speaks of is one that all citizens are equals with equal opportunity and representation. In this new state, African Americans can finally reestablish their identity through their own eyes and not through a double-conscious. The unifying of the races would allow the true establish of the melting pot America would become. In this melting pot, the values, ideas, and talents of all people would be free to intertwine and influence all of those in the country. The assimilation of African and White Americans would allow for blacks to get a higher education at capable institutions, and white to openly embrace the culture and arts of African Americans.

​Segregation allowed for the rebuilding of the Union to create an unequal split in civil representation and public services. It allowed for racial tensions to fester and build while altercations between blacks and white turned increasingly violent. Segregation was failed plan for equality and peace; therefore, the only other option was to assimilate. Assimilation caused for the sharing of cultures, values, and opportunities. This is what built the American we live in today that is home to citizens from all walks of life and from countries all around the world. In today’s world, the assimilation of blacks and white is not at all at strength Americans would like it to be, but the more we began accept the values and others and understand that we are all equal we will continue to work toward a great earth. Frederick Douglass wrote that,

“Great streams are not easily turned from channels, worn deep in the course of ages. They may sometimes rise in quiet and stately majesty, and inundate the land, refreshing and fertilizing the earth with their mysterious properties. They may also rise in wrath and fury, and bear away, on their angry waves, the accumulated wealth of years of toil and hardship. They, however, gradually flow back to the same old channel, and flow on as serenely as ever. But, while the river may not be turned aside, it may dry up, and leave nothing behind but the withered branch, and the unsightly rock, to howl in the abyss-sweeping wind, the sad tale of departed glory. As with rivers so with nations” (Douglass, 403).​

I believed this quote still rings true to this country. Despite the glory this nation has achieved, if we Americans fail to continue to grow as one, we will have failed. If we fail to end all racism, prejudices and inequalities we will have failed as a nation. In conclusion, must continue to learn to accept each other along with our individual culture, beliefs, and values.

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Johnson’s Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man: Unifying the Races – Assimilation Versus Segregation. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 8, 2023, from
“Johnson’s Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man: Unifying the Races – Assimilation Versus Segregation.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022,
Johnson’s Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man: Unifying the Races – Assimilation Versus Segregation. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 8 Jun. 2023].
Johnson’s Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man: Unifying the Races – Assimilation Versus Segregation [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 27 [cited 2023 Jun 8]. Available from:
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