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Black Like Me

     by Griffin, John Howard

Black Like Me

In 1959, a white man by the name of John Griffin decided to spend seven weeks as a black man in the Deep South of America. In order to better comprehend the discrimination and prejudice of the time, he left his family in Texas, relocated to New Orleans, and dyed his skin with the help of prescription medication and stain. He kept his real identity as a writer, changing only the color of his skin, and upon stepping out into the night for the first time as a black man, began his new life. He quickly befriended an elderly shoeshine man named Sterling Williams who became his link with the black world. Specifically, he was someone with whom Griffin could share his many new experiences - searching for a "Colored" restroom, drinking fountain, or café, when a white version was just up the street, or being refused service in a store. Mr. Griffin discovered what it was like to have to live by someone else’s rules and often questioned what he was doing, asking whether or not it was "worth trying to show the one race what went on behind the mask of the other."  

Whether or not you agree with Mr.Griffin’s unusual undertaking in the fall of 1959, his story and his own reflective analyses of his work and the Civil Rights Movement will make you think. John Griffin died in 1980, however, Black Like Me continues to be a much-studied piece of literature.

Reviewed by ls, 6/98. Other reviews by ls.