Black Like Me

Black Like Me
Black Like Me.jpg
First edition
AuthorJohn Howard Griffin
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
GenreNon-fiction
PublisherHoughton Mifflin
Publication date
1960
305.896073
LC ClassE185.61 .G8

Black Like Me, first published in 1961, is a nonfiction book by white journalist John Howard Griffin recounting his journey in the Deep South of the United States, at a time when African-Americans lived under racial segregation. Griffin was a native of Mansfield, Texas, who had his skin temporarily darkened to pass as a black man. He traveled for six weeks throughout the racially segregated states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, and Georgia to explore life from the other side of the color line. Sepia Magazine financed the project in exchange for the right to print the account first as a series of articles.

Griffin kept a journal of his experiences; the 188-page diary was the genesis of the book. When he started his project in 1959, race relations in America were particularly strained. The title of the book is taken from the last line of the Langston Hughes poem "Dream Variations".

In 1964, a film version of Black Like Me, starring James Whitmore, was produced.[1] A generation later, Robert Bonazzi published a biographical book about Griffin, these events, and his life: Man in the Mirror: John Howard Griffin and the Story of Black Like Me (1997).

In 1984 Eddie Murphy famously parodied Griffin's story in a sketch on White Like Me.”

Account of the trip

In late 1959, John Howard Griffin went to a friend's house in New Orleans, Louisiana. Once there, under the care of a dermatologist, Griffin underwent a regimen of large oral doses of the anti-vitiligo drug methoxsalen, and spending up to fifteen hours daily under an ultraviolet lamp.[2] When he could pass as an African American, Griffin began a six-week journey in the South. Don Rutledge traveled with him, documenting the experience with photos.[3]

During his trip, Griffin abided by the rule that he would not change his name or alter his identity; if asked who he was or what he was doing, he would tell the truth.[4] In the beginning, he decided to talk as little as possible[5] to ease his transition into the social milieu of southern U.S. blacks. He became accustomed everywhere to the "hate stare" received from whites.

After he disguised himself, many people who knew Griffin as a white man did not recognize him. Sterling Williams, a black shoeshine man in the French Quarter whom Griffin regarded as a casual friend, did not recognize him. Because Griffin wanted assistance in entering into the black community, he decided to tell Sterling about his identity and project. He first hinted that he wore the same unusual shoes as somebody else,[6] but Sterling still did not recognize him until Griffin told him.

In New Orleans, a black counterman at a small restaurant chatted with Griffin about the difficulties of finding a place to go to the bathroom, as facilities were segregated and blacks were prohibited from many. He turned a question about a Catholic church into a joke about "spending much of your time praying for a place to piss".

On a bus trip, Griffin began to give his seat to a white woman, but disapproving looks from black passengers stopped him. He thought he had a momentary breakthrough with the woman, but she insulted him and began talking with other white passengers about how impudent the blacks were becoming.