Skip over navigation

Black Like Me

John Howard Griffin

November 10–15, 1959

November 2–8, 1959

November 10–15, 1959, page 2

page 1 of 2


Griffin goes out to look for a job, but though he is articulate and well- dressed, no white employer is willing even to consider hiring him—no one seems to believe that he would really be competent. As he begins to sense white oppression more and more acutely, Griffin begins to resent his own blackness for causing him such pain, and even to resent other blacks because they share it. But he is unfailingly struck by the lengths to which Negroes will go to help one another. When he asks a black student for directions to a movie theater, the young man offers to take him there personally, even though it is more than two miles away. The student also offers to return for him at the end of the movie. Later, Griffin takes a walk through the white part of town, where he sees a well-known gourmet restaurant. Hungry, he nearly enters without thinking. Suddenly remembering that he is black, he realizes that he could never enter the restaurant except as a busboy.

Griffin sits down on a park bench for a moment of rest. A white man tells him that he should move. Thinking that the man is intervening to keep him from getting into trouble, he thanks him. Later, he realizes that the bench was not off-limits to blacks, and that the man simply wanted him to leave. Riding a bus through town, Griffin attempts to exit at his stop. The white bus conductor slams the door shut before he can disembark, and refuses to let him off for eight long blocks. Griffin is forced to walk back to his original stop.

After Griffin passes a week of futile job-hunting, Sterling Williams shows him a news story about a case in Poplarville, Mississippi, in which a black man named Mack Parker was lynched by group of whites. The FBI assembled a massive amount of incriminating evidence against the white men involved in the lynching, but the all-white jury refused to find them guilty. Mississippi has the reputation of being far worse for blacks even than New Orleans. Griffin decides that he must travel there at once. When he tries to cash his traveler's cheques, however, he is refused. At last he finds a kind white woman in a Catholic bookstore who helps him. When he tries to buy his bus ticket, the white woman behind the counter gives him a look he calls the Hate Stare, and refuses to give him his change. At last, she hurls his change and his ticket onto the floor. After waiting in the room reserved for colored people, Griffin goes to board the bus. Whites are allowed to board first, then blacks. But one white army officer goes to the back of the line and waits for the blacks to board before taking his seat.

On the bus, Griffin is irked by the behavior of a young, well-dressed black man named Christophe, who treats the whites fawningly but looks upon the other Negroes with contempt. On the way to Mississippi, the bus stops in a small town for a break. The whites are allowed to get off the bus, stretch their legs, and use the restroom. The blacks are forced to remain on the bus. One black man angrily urinates on the floor of the bus in protest. The journey resumes and as the bus drives through Poplarville, a black man named Bill Williams shows Griffin where the Parker lynching took place. Griffin gets off the bus in Hattiesburg and almost immediately, a group of young white men careens by. The men yell obscenities at him and pelt him with fruit. Disheartened, Griffin attempts to write a letter to his wife, but he is unable to do it. Remembering a central tenet of being a black man—that one must never look at a white woman if one can help it—Griffin is unable to bring himself to contact his own wife.

Dispiritedly, Griffin calls an acquaintance named P.D. East, a white newspaper editor who has devoted himself to the cause of racial justice, even to the extent that his life is in constant danger from white hate groups. East takes Griffin home with him. Griffin is already so accustomed to being black that he is embarrassed to ride in the front seat of East's car. East gives him the manuscript of his autobiography, The Magnolia Jungle, which details his long, uncompromising fight against racial prejudice. Griffin reads the book in its entirety that night.

Griffin meets East's wife Billie and their daughter. The East women lead a lonely life, almost completely ostracized by the white community around them. East tells Griffin that he has made a long study of white racism, and gives him a stack of books, clippings, and pamphlets. Reading through these materials, Griffin decides that the worst of all white racists are not necessarily the violent, ignorant men such as the ones who shouted at him from their car the previous night. Rather, the real evil stems from the supposed thinkers, the politicians, lawyers, and writers who produce propaganda justifying racial hatred and legislation enforcing it. It is men like this who poison all the others, directly causing the social conditioning that leads to the climate of racial conflict in the United States.

More Help

Previous Next

by different2209, February 12, 2015

im certain that he didnt die from diabetes but from the skin dyes, tablets and injections that allowed his skin to go black. He died alittle later when he finished writing the book and wasn't alive to see the influence it had on American society.

Follow Us