Black Like Me
John Howard Griffin
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In the Deep South of the 1950s, journalist John Howard Griffin decided to cross the color line. Using medication that darkened his skin to deep brown, he exchanged his privileged life as a Southern white man for the disenfranchised world of an unemployed black man. His audacious, still chillingly relevant eyewitness history is a work about race and humanity-that in this new millennium still has something important to say to every American.
nights and whom I should probably never see. The kitchen was next to my room, and beyond that was the bathroom. I paid the three-dollar charge in advance, unpacked and returned to the YMCA Coffee Shop, which turned out to be the meeting place of the city’s important men. There I met a much more educated and affluent class, older men who brought me into the conversation. We sat around a U-shaped counter drinking coffee. The talk was focused exclusively on “the problem” and the forthcoming
world, outside standards disappeared. They were somewhere beyond in the vast darkness. In here, we had all we needed for gaiety. We had shelter, some food in our bellies, the bodies and eyes and affections of children who were not yet aware of how things were. And we had treats. We cut the Milky Way bars into thin slices for dessert. In a framework of nothing, slices of Milky Way become a great gift. With almost rabid delight, the children consumed them. One of the smaller girls salivated so
comfortable room accompanied by a Negro who carried my bags. I gave him his tip, received his bow and realized that already he was far from me, distant as the Negro is distant from the white. I locked the door, sat on the bed and smoked a cigarette. I was the same man who could not possibly have bought his way into this room a week ago. My inclination was to marvel at the feel of the carpet beneath my feet, to catalogue the banal miracle of every stick of furniture, every lamp, the telephone, to
him immediately. He is a tall, somewhat skinny young fellow, married and has a child - a gentleman in every way. December 7 Three days of hard work, from morning until late at night. My interview notebooks were filled up, but at night I was too tired to write in my journal and went immediately to bed. We had had the most splendid help and cooperation from such Negro leaders as attorney A.T. Walden, businessman T.M. Alexander, the Reverend Samuel Williams, and the immensely impressive Dr.
under the sunlamp: Ultraviolet radiation accelerated the darkening process, initiated by Oxsoralen, the drug used to treat vitiligo (a condition that causes white splotches on the skin). Below: As described in the text, Griffin was warned against looking at white women - including movie posters (p. 60). Griffin spent a great deal of his journey walking. Warned away from park benches and stoops - or any other resting place where a Black person could be accused of loitering - he found such