(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“Brothers” is a poem of conventional meter, iambic pentameter, and conventional form, question and answer. The subject matter, however, is disturbing. A man to be lynched is asked why he has acted like a beast. He responds that his beastlike shape slumbers in all of those quiet African Americans who have for years taken abuse and discrimination while acting as loyal servants. After his body is burned, those who lynched him ponder his last “muttered” words: “’Brothers in spirits, brothers in deed are we.” The explanation they seek is in the title of the poem: They have committed a crime against him as he has committed a crime against them. Ironically, however, the man who is lynched committed one crime; the men who lynched him committed the crime of killing him and collectively creating the beast he had become.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Carroll, Anne. “Art, Literature, and the Harlem Renaissance: The Messages of God’s Trombones.” College Literature 29, no. 3 (Summer, 2002): 57-82.

Kostelanetz, Richard. Politics in the African American Novel: James Weldon Johnson, W. E. B. Du Bois, Richard Wright, and Ralph Ellison. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991.

Marren, Susan, and Robert Cochran. “Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man.” The Explicator 60, no. 3 (Spring, 2002): 147-149.

Rottenberg, Catherine. “Race and Ethnicity in The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man and The Rise of David Levinsky: The Performative Difference.” MELUS 29, nos. 3/4 (Fall/Winter, 2004): 307-321.

Ruotolo, Cristina L. “James Weldon Johnson and the Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Musician.” American Literature 72, no. 2 (June, 2000): 249-274.

Sacher, Jack. “James Weldon Johnson and the Poetry of God’s Trombones.” The Choral Journal 40, no. 1 (1999): 25.

Schulz, Jennifer L. “Restaging the Racial Contract: James Weldon Johnson’s Signatory Strategies.” American Literature 74, no. 1 (March, 2002): 31-58.