Black Like Me | Study Guide

John Howard Griffin

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Black Like Me | Preface | Summary



In his one-page preface to Black Like Me, John Howard Griffin ends with a vivid description of his book as the story of what happens when a "so-called first-class citizen is cast on the junk heap of second-class citizenship." Griffin acknowledges that because he is white, many people who read the book may question the authenticity of his attempting to talk about "what it is like to be a Negro in a land where we keep the Negro down."

Griffin explains that he gathered a great deal of data and spent much time researching and analyzing his findings. However, his scientific study seemed secondary to what he wrote in the journal he kept while he traveled through the South. He abandoned trying to combine the data with his personal account, and he published just the journal instead, "in all its crudity and rawness."


The last sentence of the preface conveys the personal exhaustion and demoralization that Griffin felt at the end of his journey. He had gone into the project a privileged, successful white writer—a "so-called first-class citizen." The relentless dismissal and hostility he endures from white people for the six weeks he travels through the South as a black man is soul-crushing. It makes him feel discarded and unwanted, like the trash in a junk heap.

Griffin has little patience for those who wish to focus on the accuracy of his story as a way of discrediting his testimony or of distracting from the national emergency of violence and discrimination unfolding every day in the South. He undertakes the project to get as close as he can to understanding what a black man of his age and character would experience in the deep South. At the end of the undertaking, he knows that the African Americans he has met will continue to be judged and mistreated because of the color of their skin. On the other hand, he will be able to return to his life of white privilege. He wants readers to know this, above all. While his story is not every Southern black man's story (what story ever would be?), it is a true account of a real problem in dire need of attention from civic leaders in both white and black communities.

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