Black Like Me | Study Guide

John Howard Griffin

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Black Like Me | Plot Summary



After darkening his skin enough to pass in public as a black man, John Howard Griffin, a white writer from Texas, travels to the deep South in November 1959. His goal is to live among African Americans and bear witness to their treatment by white Southerners. He spends six weeks in this experiment, which he begins in New Orleans. He socializes with men working at the shoeshine stands and with influential men in the black community who gather at the YMCA cafe. From there he travels, on buses and by hitching rides from drivers, to towns in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. Finally he returns to New Orleans for a final photo shoot to wrap up the project. In each location, Griffin identifies himself as a writer from Texas researching race relations in the South. He spends whole days looking for work in different cities and finds none. Everywhere he goes, Griffin is treated kindly, even sometimes protectively, by other black people he meets. They are happy to share with him details about life in their towns as well as food and in some cases even lodging. He interacts with white people over merchant counters, on public transportation, in cars that offer him rides, and in the streets. He finds that respectful and kind treatment on their parts is rare. More common are rejection, refusal, angry epithets, stony "hate stares," threats of violence, and lewd sexual talk.

Griffin returns home to his family in mid-December to write about his journey. In the months after his story is published, his quiet, private life ends. Griffin is sought after for interviews on several well-known television and radio shows. He and his family also become targets of white supremacists who threaten them with violence. On one occasion, he is even hung in effigy in his own hometown. Griffin and his family eventually relocate to Mexico to escape the constant harassment they receive in Texas. The journal Griffin kept throughout this experience ultimately becomes the book Black Like Me.

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