Black Like Me

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For the film based on the book, see Black Like Me (film).
Black Like Me
Black Like Me.jpg
Author John Howard Griffin
Country United States
Language English
Publication date
1962
ISBN 978-0-451-19203-5

Black Like Me is a nonfiction book by journalist John Howard Griffin first published in 1961. Griffin was a white native of Dallas, Texas and the book describes his six-week experience travelling on Greyhound buses (occasionally hitchhiking) throughout the racially segregated states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia passing as a black man. 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.

At the time of the book's writing in 1959, race relations in America were particularly strained and Griffin aimed to explain the difficulties that black people faced in certain areas. Under the care of a doctor, Griffin artificially darkened his skin to pass as a black man.

In 1964, a film version of Black Like Me starring James Whitmore was produced.[1]

Robert Bonazzi subsequently published the book Man in the Mirror: John Howard Griffin and the Story of Black Like Me.

The title of the book is taken from the last line of the Langston Hughes poem "Dream Variations".

Account of the trip[edit]

In the autumn of 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, trade name Oxsoralen, and spending up to fifteen hours daily under an ultraviolet lamp.[2]

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.[3] In the beginning, he decided to talk as little as possible[4] 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 John Howard Griffin as a white man did not recognize him. A black shoeshine man named Sterling Williams in the French Quarter, a man whom Griffin regarded as a friend, made no connection with his looks now that he was black. Because Griffin wanted assistance in integrating with the black community, he decided to tell Sterling that he was in fact the white man he'd met before. He first hinted that he wore the same unusual shoes as somebody else,[5] 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. He turned a question about a Catholic church into a joke about "spending much of your time praying for a place to piss".

An episode on the bus reveals the climate of the times. Griffin began to give his seat to a white woman on the bus, 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 sassy "they" were becoming.

Reaction[edit]

After his book was published, Griffin received many letters of support, helping him get through the stress of the experience.[6]

Griffin became a national celebrity for a time. In a 1975 essay included in later editions of the book, he described the hostility and threats to him and his family that emerged in his hometown of Mansfield, Texas. He moved to Mexico for a number of years for safety.[7][8]

Almost forgotten, however, in the wake of Griffin's experiments were the experiences of journalist Ray Sprigle more than a decade earlier. In 1948, Sprigle disguised himself as a black man and wrote a series of articles under the title, "I Was a Negro in the South for 30 Days," which was published in many newspapers. The tagline in the Aug. 30, 1948 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette read: "For a month, Ray Sprigle, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, roamed the South disguised as a Negro, and accepted as one by whites and Negroes alike. His report on how a white man feels as a Negro in the South is told in this series of articles."

Editions[edit]

United States[edit]

  • John Howard Griffin (1961). Black Like Me. Houghton Mifflin. LCCN 61005368. 
  • John Howard Griffin (1962). Black Like Me. Signet Books. ISBN 0-451-09703-3. 
  • John Howard Griffin (1977). Black Like Me. Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-395-25102-8. 
    • 2nd Edition, with an epilogue by the author.
  • John Howard Griffin (1996). Black Like Me: 35th Anniversary Edition. Signet. ISBN 0-451-19203-6. 
  • John Howard Griffin (1999). Black Like Me. Buccaneer Books. ISBN 1-56849-730-X. 
  • John Howard Griffin (2003). Black Like Me. New American Library Trade. ISBN 0-451-20864-1. 
  • John Howard Griffin (2004). Black like me: the definitive Griffin estate edition, corrected from original manuscripts. Wings Press. ISBN 0-930324-72-2. 
  • John Howard Griffin (2010). Black Like Me (50th Anniversary Edition). Signet. ISBN 978-0451234216. 

UK[edit]

  • John Howard Griffin (1962). Black Like Me. Collins. 
  • John Howard Griffin (1962). Black Like Me. The Catholic Book Club. 
  • John Howard Griffin (1962). Black Like Me. Grafton Books. ISBN 0-586-02482-4.  (repeatedly reprinted under same ISBN)
  • John Howard Griffin (1964). Black Like Me. Panther. ISBN 0-586-02824-2. 
  • John Howard Griffin (2009). Black Like Me. Souvenir Press. ISBN 978-0-285-63857-0. 

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Crowther, Bosley (May 21, 1964). "Black Like Me (1964) James Whitmore Stars in Book's Adaptation". The New York Times. 
  2. ^ Urban Legends Reference Pages: Death of John Howard Griffin
  3. ^ "I decided not to change my name or identity. ... If asked who I was or what I was doing, I would answer truthfully." (page 4) Black Like Me, Signet & New American Library, a division of Penguin Group publishers.
  4. ^ "I had made it a rule to talk as little as possible at first." (page 23)
  5. ^ He looked up without a hint of recognition. ... He had shined them many times and I felt he should certainly recognize them.(page 26)
  6. ^ "There were six thousand letters to date and only nine of them abusive" (page 184)
  7. ^ Kevin Connolly (25 October 2009), Exposing the colour of prejudice, BBC News 
  8. ^ Jonathan Yardley (March 17, 2007), John Howard Griffinthe Finish, Washington Post 

External links[edit]