THE HISTORY-MAKING CLASSIC ABOUT CROSSING THE COLOR LINE IN AMERICA'S SEGREGATED SOUTH
“One of the deepest, most penetrating documents yet set down on the racial question.”—Atlanta Journal & Constitution
In the Deep South of the 1950’s, a color line was etched in blood across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. Journalist John Howard Griffin decided to cross that line. Using medication that darkened his skin to deep brown, he exchanged his privileged life as a Southern white man for the disenfranchised world of an unemployed black man.
What happened to John Howard Griffin—from the outside and within himself—as he made his way through the segregated Deep South is recorded in this searing work of nonfiction. His audacious, still chillingly relevant eyewitness history is a work about race and humanity every American must read.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 0.70(d)|
|Age Range:||13 - 17 Years|
About the Author
John Howard Griffin (1920-1980) is known internationally as the author of two novels, Nuni and The Devil Rides Outside, five books and monographs on racism in addition to Black Like Me, a biography of Thomas Merton, three collections of photography, a volume of journals, two historical works on Texas, a musicological study, and The John Howard Reader. Born in Dallas, Texas, and educated in France, he served in the U.S. Air Force in the South Pacific, where an injury he received during a Japanese bombardment eventually resulted in the complete loss of his sight. In the 1950's he converted to Catholicism, married, and raised a family. In 1957, (after ten years of blindness) he miraculously regained his sight.
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Black Like Me
By John Howard Griffin, Don Rutledge
Wings PressCopyright © 2010 The Estate of John Howard Griffin and Elizabeth Griffin-Bonazzi
All rights reserved.
October 28, 1959
For years the idea had haunted me, and that night it returned more insistently than ever.
If a white man became a Negro in the Deep South, what adjustments would he have to make? What is it like to experience discrimination based on skin color, something over which one has no control?
This speculation was sparked again by a report that lay on my desk in the old barn that served as my office. The report mentioned the rise in suicide tendency among Southern Negroes. This did not mean that they killed themselves, but rather that they had reached a stage where they simply no longer cared whether they lived or died.
It was that bad, then, despite the white Southern legislators who insisted that they had a "wonderfully harmonious relationship" with Negroes. I lingered on in my office at my parents' Mansfield, Texas, farm. My wife and children slept in our home five miles away. I sat there, surrounded by the smells of autumn coming through my open window, unable to leave, unable to sleep.
How else except by becoming a Negro could a white man hope to learn the truth? Though we lived side by side throughout the South, communication between the two races had simply ceased to exist. Neither really knew what went on with those of the other race. The Southern Negro will not tell the white man the truth. He long ago learned that if he speaks a truth unpleasing to the white, the white will make life miserable for him.
The only way I could see to bridge the gap between us was to become a Negro. I decided I would do this.
I prepared to walk into a life that appeared suddenly mysterious and frightening. With my decision to become a Negro I realized that I, a specialist in race issues, really knew nothing of the Negro's real problem.CHAPTER 2
I drove into Fort Worth in the afternoon to discuss the project with my old friend George Levitan. He is the owner of Sepia, an internationally distributed Negro magazine with a format similar to that of Look. A large, middle-aged man, he long ago won my admiration by offering equal job opportunities to members of any race, choosing according to their qualifications and future potentialities. With an on-the-job training program, he has made Sepia a model, edited, printed and distributed from the million-dollar Fort Worth plant.
It was a beautiful autumn day. I drove to his house, arriving there in mid-afternoon. His door was always open, so I walked in and called him.
An affectionate man, he embraced me, offered me coffee and had me take a seat. Through the glass doors of his den I looked out to see a few dead leaves floating on the water of his swimming pool.
He listened, his cheek buried in his fist as I explained the project.
"It's a crazy idea," he said. "You'll get yourself killed fooling around down there." But he could not hide his enthusiasm.
I told him the South's racial situation was a blot on the whole country, and especially reflected against us overseas; and that the best way to find out if we had second-class citizens and what their plight was would be to become one of them.
"But it'll be terrible," he said. "You'll be making yourself the target of the most ignorant rabble in the country. If they ever caught you, they'd be sure to make an example of you." He gazed out the window, his face puffed with concentration.
"But you know - it is a great idea. I can see right now you're going through with it, so what can I do to help?"
"Pay the tab and I'll give Sepia some articles - or let you use some chapters from the book I'll write."
He agreed, but suggested that before I made final plans I discuss it with Mrs. Adelle Jackson, Sepia's editorial director. Both of us have a high regard for this extraordinary woman's opinions. She rose from a secretarial position to become one of the country's distinguished editors.
After leaving Mr. Levitan, I called on her. At first she thought the idea was impossible. "You don't know what you'd be getting into, John," she said. She felt that when my book was published, I would be the butt of resentment from all the hate groups, that they would stop at nothing to discredit me, and that many decent whites would be afraid to show me courtesies when others might be watching. And, too, there are the deeper currents among even well-intentioned Southerners, currents that make the idea of a white man's assuming nonwhite identity a somewhat repulsive step down. And other currents that say, "Don't stir up anything. Let's try to keep things peaceful."
And then I went home and told my wife. After she recovered from her astonishment, she unhesitatingly agreed that if I felt I must do this thing then I must. She offered, as her part of the project, her willingness to lead, with our three children, the unsatisfactory family life of a household deprived of husband and father.
I returned at night to my barn office. Outside my open window, frogs and crickets made the silence more profound. A chill breeze rustled dead leaves in the woods. It carried an odor of fresh-turned dirt, drawing my attention to the fields where the tractor had only a few hours ago stopped plowing the earth. I sensed the radiance of it in the stillness, sensed the earthworms that burrowed back into the depths of the furrows, sensed the animals that wandered in the woods in search of nocturnal rut or food. I felt the beginning loneliness, the terrible dread of what I had decided to do.CHAPTER 3
Lunched with Mrs. Jackson, Mr. Levitan, and three FBI men from the Dallas office. Though I knew my project was outside their jurisdiction and that they could not support it in any way, I wanted them to know about it in advance. We discussed it in considerable detail. I decided not to change my name or identity. I would merely change my pigmentation and allow people to draw their own conclusions. If asked who I was or what I was doing, I would answer truthfully.
"Do you suppose they'll treat me as John Howard Griffin, regardless of my color - or will they treat me as some nameless Negro, even though I am still the same man?" I asked.
"You're not serious," one of them said. "They're not going to ask you any questions. As soon as they see you, you'll be a Negro and that's all they'll ever want to know about you."CHAPTER 4
November 1 New Orleans
Arrived by plane as night set in. I checked my bags at the Hotel Monteleone in the French Quarter and began walking.
Strange experience. When I was blind I came here and learned cane-walking in the French Quarter. Now, the most intense excitement filled me as I saw the places I visited while blind. I walked miles, trying to locate everything by sight that I once knew only by smell and sound. The streets were full of sightseers. I wandered among them, entranced by the narrow streets, the iron- grill balconies, the green plants and vines glimpsed in lighted flagstone courtyards. Every view was magical, whether it was a deserted, lamplit street corner or the neon hubbub of Royal Street.
I walked past garish bars where hawkers urged me in to see the "gorgeous girls" do their hip-shaking; and they left the doors open sufficiently to show dim, smoke-blue interiors crossed by long rays of pink spotlights that turned the seminude girls' flesh rose. I strolled on. Jazz blared from the bars. Odors of old stone and Creole cooking and coffee filled the streets.
At Broussard's, I had supper in a superb courtyard under the stars - huîtres variées, green salad, white wine and coffee; the same meal I had there in past years. I saw everything - the lanterns, the trees, the candlelit tables, the little fountain, as though I were looking through a fine camera lens. Surrounded by elegant waiters, elegant people and elegant food, I thought of the other parts of town where I would live in the days to come. Was there a place in New Orleans where a Negro could buy huîtres variées?
At ten I finished dinner and went to telephone an old friend who lives in New Orleans. He insisted I stay at his house, and I was relieved, for I foresaw all sorts of difficulties staying in a hotel while I turned into a Negro.CHAPTER 5
In the morning I called the medical information service and asked for the names of some prominent dermatologists. They gave me three names. The first one I called gave me an appointment immediately, so I took the streetcar to his office and explained my needs. He had had no experience with such a request, but was willing enough to aid me in my project. After taking my case history, he asked me to wait while he consulted with some of his colleagues by phone as to the best method of darkening my skin.
After some time he stepped back into the room and said they had all agreed we would attempt it with a medication taken orally, followed by exposure to ultraviolet rays. He explained they used it on victims of vitiligo, a disease that causes white spots to appear on the face and body. Until this medication was discovered, the victims of this disease had had to wear pancake make-up when they went outside in public. It could be dangerous to use, however. It usually took from six weeks to three months to darken the skin pigmentation. I told him I could not spare that much time and we decided to try accelerated treatments, with constant blood tests to see how my system tolerated the medication.
I got the prescription filled, returned to the house and took the tablets. Two hours later I exposed my entire body to ultraviolet rays from a sunlamp.
My host remained away from the house most of the time. I told him I was on an assignment that I could not discuss and that he should not be surprised if I simply disappeared without saying good-by. I knew that he had no prejudices, but I nevertheless did not want to involve him in any way, since reprisals might be taken against him by bigots or by his associates, who might resent his role as my host once my story became known. He gave me a key to his house and we agreed to maintain our different schedules without worrying about the usual host-guest relationship.
After supper I took the trolley into town and walked through some of the Negro sections in the South Rampart-Dryades Street sections. They are mostly poor sections with cafés, bars and businesses of all sorts alongside cluttered residences. I searched for an opening, a way to enter the world of the Negro, some contact perhaps. As yet, it was a blank to me. My greatest preoccupation was that moment of transition when I would "pass over." Where and how would I do it? To get from the white world into the Negro world is a complex matter. I looked for the chink in the wall through which I might pass unobserved.CHAPTER 6
For the past four days, I had spent my time at the doctor's or closed up in my room with cotton pads over my eyes and the sun lamp turned on me. They had made blood tests twice and found no indication of damage to the liver. But the medication produced lassitude and I felt constantly on the verge of nausea.
The doctor, well-disposed, gave me many warnings about the dangers of this project insofar as my contact with Negroes was concerned. Now that he had had time to think, he was beginning to doubt the wisdom of this course, or perhaps he felt strongly his responsibility. In any event, he warned me that I must have some contact in each major city so my family could check on my safety from time to time.
"I believe in the brotherhood of man," he said. "I respect the race. But I can never forget when I was an intern and had to go down on South Rampart Street to patch them up. Three or four would be sitting in a bar or at a friend's house. They were apparently friends one minute and then something would come up and one would get slashed up with a knife. We're willing enough to go all the way for them, but we've got this problem - how can you render the duties of justice to men when you're afraid they'll be so unaware of justice that they may destroy you? - especially since their attitude toward their own race is a destructive one." He said this with real sadness. I told him my contacts indicated that Negroes themselves were aware of this dilemma and they were making strong efforts to unify the race, to condemn among themselves any tactic or any violence or injustice that would reflect against their race as a whole.
"I'm glad to hear that," he said, obviously unconvinced.
He also told me things that Negroes had told him - that the lighter the skin the more trustworthy the Negro. I was astonished to see an intelligent man fall for this cliché, and equally astonished that Negroes would advance it, for in effect it placed the dark Negro in an inferior position and fed the racist idea of judging a man by his color.
When not lying under the lamp, I walked the streets of New Orleans to orient myself. Each day I stopped at a sidewalk shoe-shine stand near the French Market. The shine boy was an elderly man, large, keenly intelligent and a good talker. He had lost a leg during World War I. He showed none of the obsequiousness of the Southern Negro, but was polite and easy to know. (Not that I had any illusions that I knew him, for he was too astute to allow any white man that privilege.) I told him I was a writer, touring the Deep South to study living conditions, civil rights, etc., but I did not tell him I would do this as a Negro. Finally, we exchanged names. He was called Sterling Williams. I decided he might be the contact for my entry into the Negro community.CHAPTER 7
I had my last visit with the doctor in the morning. The treatment had not worked as rapidly or completely as we had hoped, but I had a dark undercoating of pigment which I could touch up perfectly with stain. We decided I must shave my head, since I had no curl. The dosage was established and the darkness would increase as time passed. From there, I was on my own.
The doctor showed much doubt and perhaps regret that he had ever cooperated with me in this transformation. Again he gave me many firm warnings and told me to get in touch with him any time of the day or night if I got into trouble. As I left his office, he shook my hand and said gravely, "Now you go into oblivion."
A cold spell had hit New Orleans, so that lying under the lamp that day was a comfortable experience. I decided to shave my head that evening and begin my journey.
In the afternoon, my host looked at me with friendly alarm. "I don't know what you're up to," he said, "but I'm worried."
I told him not to be and suggested I would probably leave sometime that night. He said he had a meeting, but would cancel it. I asked him not to. "I don't want you here when I go," I said.
"What are you going to do - be a Puerto Rican or something?" he asked.
"Something like that," I said. "There may be ramifications. I'd rather you didn't know anything about it. I don't want you involved."
He left around five. I fixed myself a bite of supper and drank many cups of coffee, putting off the moment when I would shave my head, grind in the stain and walk out into the New Orleans night as a Negro.
I telephoned home, but no one answered. My nerves simmered with dread. Finally I began to cut my hair and shave my head. It took hours and many razor blades before my pate felt smooth to my hand. The house settled into silence around me. Occasionally, I heard the trolley car rattle past as the night grew late. I applied coat after coat of stain, wiping each coat off. Then I showered to wash off all the excess. I did not look into the mirror until I finished dressing and had packed my duffel bags.
Turning off all the lights, I went into the bathroom and closed the door. I stood in the darkness before the mirror, my hand on the light switch. I forced myself to flick it on.
In the flood of light against white tile, the face and shoulders of a stranger - a fierce, bald, very dark Negro - glared at me from the glass. He in no way resembled me.
The transformation was total and shocking. I had expected to see myself disguised, but this was something else. I was imprisoned in the flesh of an utter stranger, an unsympathetic one with whom I felt no kinship. All traces of the John Griffin I had been were wiped from existence. Even the senses underwent a change so profound it filled me with distress. I looked into the mirror and saw nothing of the white John Griffin's past. No, the reflections led back to Africa, back to the shanty and the ghetto, back to the fruitless struggles against the mark of blackness. Suddenly, almost with no mental preparation, no advance hint, it became clear and permeated my whole being. My inclination was to fight against it. I had gone too far. I knew now that there is no such thing as a disguised white man, when the black won't rub off. The black man is wholly a Negro, regardless of what he once may have been. I was a newly created Negro who must go out that door and live in a world unfamiliar to me.
Excerpted from Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin, Don Rutledge. Copyright © 2010 The Estate of John Howard Griffin and Elizabeth Griffin-Bonazzi. Excerpted by permission of Wings Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsForeword, by Studs Terkel,
Black Like Me,
Deep South Journey, 1959,
Photographs by Don Rutledge,
The Aftermath, 1960,
Beyond Otherness, 1979,
Afterword, 2006, by Robert Bonazzi,
Special ebook added content:,
Critical Praise for Black Like Me,
What People are Saying About This
"Essential reading...a social document of the first order...with such authenticity that it cannot be dismissed." -San Francisco Chronicle
"A stinging indictment of thoughtless, needless inhumanity. No one can read it without suffering." -Dallas Morning News
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
John Howard Griffin's captivating account Black Like Me has stunned millions over the past 50 years in ways that even the author himself could never have predicted. This jaw-dropping narrative chronicles Griffin's experiences as a black man in the Deep South during the beginning of the Civil Rights movement. The book itself began as a simple research project: put forth in order to see how the "other half", of sorts, lived. However, this simple but controversial study of the sociological elements of Southern culture transformed into one of the most argued books of all time. Though Griffin's testimonial is controversial, it still carries an air of blunt truth about it. This striking confession strikes a note with millions, and the millions more who will continue to read it will feel the same emotions as the many before them have. Although Black Like Me's most obvious moral is racial tolerance, there are several underlying messages that are just as powerful. When Griffin is first transformed into a black man, he finds that, though he retains his original identity, Southern citizens still treat him differently. From this, we learn that people are the product of their upbringing, and that, at birth; people live in a condition of complete moral purity. However, as they observe their surroundings, the clarity of their persona is clouded, causing the unkind attitudes that result in racism. Also, while staying with a poor black family in the swamps of Mississippi, Griffin discovers the reality of the situation that the United States was trying so persistently to hide. He sees that much of the African American race has no hope of advancement, all due to the oppression forced upon them by the Caucasian sector of the populace. While staying with the family, he observes the beauty of their two children, and how successful they could become if only racism would cease to exist, if only they could escape the toils and troubles of the swamp. He then weeps for them, as he realizes that his own children are capable of doing anything that they set their minds to, just because they are white. This event brings about another important message: that the hate of others can only hurt, and never heal. When reading this account, I often sat down the book to digest what I was reading. During these brief pauses, I contemplated reasons why racism became so prominent in the South's lifestyle. Was it just remnants of the attitudes brought about by slavery, or just all of mankind's capable evils set out on display? I believe that, because the book caused me to question why, that the author fulfilled his purpose. Griffin's jaw-dropping account of the terrors of racism in the South brought about feelings of hatred for the evil of mankind in me that I never thought possible. Also, through reading this, I learned the importance of maintaining a state of kindness toward all men; black, white, Latino, Asian, or otherwise, and that the task of spreading awareness is a task for the community, not just for one person. Overall, I believe that this book is one of the finest and most raw pieces of literature that the English language has ever produced, and would openly recommend it to any person longing for a rebirth in culture.
This is a really good book for teens on black history. Its an insight into both racial sides in 1959 from a white man named Griffin who takes the identity of a black man to see what it is like. This book is really interesting and i highly recommend it for teens to read.
'Black Like Me' is a novel about a white journalist, John Howard Griffin, who decides to darken his skin and go undercover to live a life of an African American. As his journey progresses he realizes what it is like to treated so cruel by whites. A major theme of racism is spread throughout the novel. This story proves that whites actually were racist and treated African Americans as they were the scum of the earth. By going undercover Griffin proved that they are human and act just like whites and they are capable and worthy of being treated equally. Another theme was equality. Every experience Griffin went through, he proved that color does not mean anything. People are the same no matter what. Overall I liked reading this book because it allows the reader to learn about the perspective of a man who experienced life from two different points of view. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn about racism. It is a good lesson for people to learn that every human being should be treated as an equal.
'Black Like Me' is a very informative book.It helped me to understand past segregation a little more. The book also helps people to know that all people in the south did not treat blacks poorly, but they did not do anything about it. John Howard Griffin crossed over the line of segregation. Though he could probably not fully grasp the concept of being an African American he tried however, he understood more than most. In my opinion he helped African Americans most white people tried to cover up the racism that exiated in our country. He made those people who belived them aware. If they would not belive a southern black man they would definitly belive a white man who experienced it firsthand. Who changed his pigmentation to become the other half and he knew the truth.
This was one of the best books I have ever read!!! It summed up the struggle of African America during the Civil Rights Era and sadly, present day. I have recommended this book to EVERYONE I know.
John Howard Griffin is a middle-aged newspaper columnist and former rancher living in Texas in 1959. Writing in his diary, Griffin, a white man, recounts how he hit upon the startling idea to change his skin color and attempt to experience life as a black man. Griffin consults a dermatologist and after he agrees with himself on going through with the plan he travels to New Orleans and stays at a friend’s house without telling him what he plans to do. Throughout his journey, he travels to get to Mississippi. The main character goes through tough times believing he is black, but as his journey passes he starts to accept it. One of the major conflicts John Griffin goes through is when he tried to buy a bus ticket. What had happen, since how he appeared, black, The Ticket master refused to sell him a ticket. The Ticket master claimed that she didn't sell it to him because she had no change but by the way she spoke to him, the reader can tell she hated john without even knowing him, judging by his complexion. Beside this many other stores where he had bought while he was white refused to cash his travelers check because of his dark skin, throughout these injustice he kept clam and was civilized. P.D. East, George Levitan, Adele Jackson, Don Rutledge all are minor character who portray that not all whites were mean and brutal to Negroes. Christophe was placed to demonstrate that not all black people fit the stereotype, he was a well-dressed, and who is fawning toward the white passengers, and cynical and condescending toward the blacks with whom he is forced to sit. Now Sterling Williams demonstrates that in general, Negroes are happy, friendly, people who are generous to everyone even strangers.
Everyone has heard the saying to "walk a mile in someone else's shoes", well John Griffin literally does this. Black Like Me is a true story about a white man named John Griffin that sets out to conduct a social experiment. In this experiment he darkens his skin with the use of medication and a type of dye to give him the appearance of a black man in the late 1950s in the Deep South. Griffin travels to locations such as Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia all of which are filled with racial tension. We see Griffin encountering discrimination, prejudice, segregation and horrible living conditions, which he describes in great detail. This book is amazing and everyone should read it. Black Like Me has given me the best picture of life as an African American in the 1950s and none of the history books I have read have painted a picture nearly as well as this book did. I always knew about segregation and acts of prejudice, but to hear Mr. Griffin's reflections of the events that are happening give a description that I have never been able to get before. His story describes his feelings and emotions, which makes it even more personal and more realistic for the reader. Although this social experiment cannot be considered fully accurate because Mr. Griffin was in actuality a white man, it still is a great book and gives greater understanding to the topic of the life of a black man in the 1950s. This is a fast read that keeps your attention throughout and it is definitely one of my favorite books. I recommend this book to everyone!
This book shaped my thoughts, feelings, ideas--everything--about African-Americans when I read it many years ago. As a Southerner, it helped me see beyond what I was hearing, seeing and experiencing around me. I recommend it for all young people as they begin to build their lives around relationships that will impact them in their careers, families and social lives.
Black Like Me is an awesome autobiography written by John Howard Griffin. In this book he shares with us his experiences of transforming from a white-skinned man, into a dark-skinned Negro. Even though I usually don't like reading books in general, I actually thought this was a very intriguing, touching book. The situations that he encounters with both white and black men and women, and the ups and downs he has to endure, capture and pull you into the book as if you were there with him. The one thing that I had a real problem with was getting through the 'long' parts. I am almost positive, that in at least one book you have read there is at least one section you skip because you just don't feel like reading it. Black Like Me tends to have a lot of those. There's the beginning; the first few pages you read seem to go by super slowly, then some parts in the middle, and almost the whole ending. I thought that he often repeated his feelings about Negro discrimination, which after a while was a bit tiring to hear. In my perspective, this was the only downfall to this book. This story had many, many lessons toward the 'rights and wrongs' of discrimination. I have to say that my favorite part of the book was when he was invited to stay overnight by a Negro family. The family that he stayed with consisted of a husband, wife, and six children. They were a poor family in dept, with only two bedrooms, and ate cooked beans every night for dinner. He compared how these Negro children acted, with his own children; he concluded that there was no difference than just the pigment in their skin. It saddened him to think that these perfectly capable, bright Negro children have less potential in their future. I thought that there was also a connection between this book and When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago. In When I Was Puerto Rican, she too was discriminated when she moved to America. She wanted to become a movie star, an actor, but because of her looks, ethnicity, and poor background, she too was looked down upon. But this scene from Black Like Me touched me in a very emotional way to just think that what he is experiencing and documenting, it is real. I think the reason I like this book so much, is because it gives a sense of what's really happening in the world, even though it was written a few decades ago. I would recommend this book even though there were some difficult parts to read. If you do chose to read it, I hope you liked it as much as I did.
I found this book very enlightening and highly suggest it. It kept my in suspense and had a hard time putting it down. This book is well worth the read. Very provocative and touching. Great story!
It makes you realize the horrors that African Americans lived with just because of their skin color. Even today if your skin color is not white[peachy, pasty, or pale] there are people who will judge you. John's book helps readers understand what life was like back then and even what life is like now for some people. It made me wonder, 'if we still lived like that, where would I be in this world?' I have been inspired by John's book to do more with my life and to keep an open mind when it comes to people[whites,blacks,hispanics,and other races].
I read this book many years ago and I am truly grateful that a person would even consider doing such an experiment. Mr. Griffin proved that racism existed at a time when most whites questioned whether or not blacks were making this stuff up. I do believe that Mr. Griffin was also battling his own racial demons and he bravely went into battle. He won. The fight continues.
It is said one cannot understand or empathize with someone else unless 'you walk in his or her shoes.' John Howard Griffin did just that, darkened his skin and took a walk into the Deep South to see how it would feel to be a member of a despised minority during 1959, the height of the Jim Crow years, when water fountains and rest rooms were separate for the races, when a black man or woman couldn't eat in a restaurant or get a hotel room. He suffers the indignity of finding everyday tasks like these almost insurmountable. Daily he experiences the cruel racial divide of the South and realizes that racism is as rampant as rumored. Without ceasing Griffin reveals the truth of Prejudice, by exposing the hidden mask of tolerance. Griffin uses an excellent blend of facts and personal experiences to premise the question of identity as it relates to race. As this theme deepens so does the internal need for Griffin too disclose the elements of racism. This force calls him to shed off his white identity and transform into a black man. I¿m much obliged to confess this novel helped me to fathom the level of discrimination African-Americans faced. The only discontentment was found in the lack of description of what his family might have faced throughout his journey. I recommend Black Like Me to anyone looking for a straightforward testament of prejudice, but only if your willing to put on some uncomfortable shoes.
Chilling stuff...such a powerful book! Don't know what else to say, except READ IT!
Interesting book. I would like to know more about the drug he took to turn black. The book is a little dated but has merit.
This is a startling, disturbing and unforgettable book. The closest you can come to walking in another's shoes. Griffin, a white man, darkens his skin and disguises himself to experience life as a black man in the deep South in the late 1950's.His experiences are not just eye opening, but deeply changing. Every American should read this to understand just an inkling of the race dilemna.
A book for people who are interested in the old days when racism was very harsh. A very realistic book, and it is very descriptive. I strongly recommend this book to teenagers and people who are into history. Reading this book you can find almost every bit of information what was happening.
Excellent book, a profound look at racial issues Griffin experienced while assimilating himself as a black man in the South, 1952.
This book holds up surprisingly well after all these years. I've probably read this book five or six times, and each time it still grips me the same way as the first. A chilling tale about a white man experiencing living in the jim crow south of the 50's as a black man, it's both enlightening and tragic.
This is a non-fiction work detailing the experiences of a middle-aged white man (like myself) who posed convincingly as a black man in the southern United States, prior to the civil rights movement. Prior to reading this, I'd seen an Oprah episode where a young white man named Josh Solomon who was inspired by this work had tried the same procedure of skin-altering drugs and disguise but didn't last a week. John Griffin, journalist and author, endured a full six weeks in the deep south in 1959. His advantage was the full knowledge that his society was blatantly and openly racist. It wasn't his task to determine if racism existed. He was on a mission to experience it, the ultimate walk in another's shoes, and to learn how it can be endured.The author writes with penetrating insight, doing his best (and admirably so) to frame explanations in addition to relating events. Many of his explanations for the behaviours he witnesses feel spot-on, brilliant, and well backed-up by the examples. There were many quotable discoveries like this for me throughout. I found an enormous amount of clarity shed on the double-edged sword of racism, and on the insults that can be generated by statements a white man might mistakenly view as innocuous. The epilogue paints the story of the 1960s (before my time) more clearly than anything I've read before, leading into the "separation" approach that finally achieved real progress.I was taken by how consuming Mr. Griffin's new identity was for him, how within just a matter of days it controlled his psyche to the point where he had difficulty framing any thought as a white man would. Picked up by a white friend for a brief escape from his experiment, he writes "I was embarrassed to ride in the front seat of the car with a white man, especially on our way to his home." This was at night with no witnesses, and still he felt this as a result of his new persona and all the oppression that swiftly came with it.The saddest episodes occurred whenever white people were confronted by their own contradictions and became belligerent or affronted rather than learn anything. Either they sensed the danger in questioning anything that would place them against the white mainstream, or couldn't face recasting their entire lifetime's behaviour in a very bad light.The events of this book took place just as Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement started rolling. It's a capturing of the world which that movement was trying to change. But however much things have changed since, in many sad respects they remain the same. What most of us see today on the surface is not as obvious as what Mr. Griffin experienced, but (as the young man on Oprah discovered) much still lies beneath. This is a must-read book for confronting and examining these truths.
I am not really sure I can 'rate' this book at this point in my life. I would imagine it would be rather outdated though perhaps the writing itself has held up? I do know that I read it in high school and it greatly influenced my view of race (doesn't exist, though ethnicity does, as well as bigotry and prejudice), US history and justice. It was a great book to have thrown at a kid and I appreciate having been struck by it.
This book is almost fifty years old, but it is still a revelation -- at least to an elderly white liberal like myself. I can remember the South in the 1950's, and what Griffin did took enormous courage. That produced a view from the other side that no white person could have had, then or now. And it also makes vividly clear the deep evil of racism -- of not treating another person as a human being. What is encouraging is the progress that has been made since he wrote: what's discouraging is the gap that still exists. Griffin's style is straight reportage, plus editorial comments, in a diction that already sounds slightly old fashioned. Should be required reading in high schools across the country
Fascinating glimpse into a nasty piece of American history. It's difficult to imagine the world that Griffin entered. It's completely unfathomable how people can treat people worse than animals just because of their skin color.I hope the world has come a long way in the 50 years since this "experiment" was undertaken because it was shameful to see what Griffin experienced as a black man.
So I read this on recommendation from my wife. Here's the true story: Griffin, a white journalist that is working for civil rights, discovers a way to make himself look black for short periods of time. He does this and then travels around the country. This book is a record of his experience, and how the world changed to him when he took on a skin of blackness. It seems a pretty groundbreaking book, though it has become a bit dated, much would probably remain relevant today.
The premise of Black Like Me is provocative even today: a white journalist medically darkens his skin and travels to the American South to experience what it's like living as a black American there. But this wasn't done in today's world; it was done in 1959, when racial tensions were running very high and some white people were of the view that blacks weren't just foreign, but actually subhuman and animal-like. Griffin actually received death threats after he came out on television with his experiences. His family and his parents both required protection from angry citizens, and his parents ended up moving out of the country to escape the persecution. What is *wrong* with people, that they would attack a journalist for a report such as this: "I have looked diligently for all aspects of 'inferiority' among them and I cannot find them." Or "When all the talk, all the propaganda has been cut away, the criterion is nothing but the color of skin." Dignity and equality among humankind are neither a threat nor an injustice to anybody, and Griffin's work becomes a catalyst for confronting the baseless cruelty for racial prejudice. An important and emotional book