While playing ragtime at a late night hot spot in New York, the Ex-Colored Man caught the attention of a wealthy white gentleman.
The gentleman's liking for ragtime develops as liking for the Ex-Colored Man himself.
While Alain Locke and other critics called for literature to portray the Negro of the new day and discard the old representations, James Weldon Johnson understood the Old Negro’s enduring importance to modern black self-conception.
His 1912 novel, , portrays the consequences of accepting existing, white-authored literary representations of the Old Negro.
Because of that financial support, she had the means to raise her son in an environment more middle-class than many blacks could enjoy at the time.
The narrator describes learning to love music at a young age as well as attending an integrated school.
He lives through a variety of experiences, including witnessing a lynching, that convince him to "pass" as white to secure his safety and advancement, but he feels as if he has given up his dream of "glorifying" the black race by composing ragtime music.
He decided to publish it anonymously because he was uncertain how the potentially controversial book would affect his diplomatic career.
During this carefree period, he taught music and attended church, where he came in contact with upper-class blacks.
Living in an all black community, he discovers and describes three classes of blacks: the desperate, the domestics, and the independent workmen or professionals.