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Black Like Me

John Howard Griffin


November 16–24, 1959

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P.D. East takes Griffin to Dillard University, a Negro college. They meet Sam Gandy, the dean of the college, and tell him about Griffin's experiment. Their conversation turns to the upcoming elections in Mississippi, and East entertains them with a biting satire of the behavior of a racist who tries to prevent a black man from registering to vote. Griffin visits a nearby church, where he discovers a pamphlet, written by a white Southern priest, decrying the evils of racism and urging his parishioners to believe that all human beings are worthy of love. Griffin is cheered by this sign that, despite the overwhelming preponderance of racist values and traditions in the South, there are still good people who work to persuade others of the justice of their cause. Griffin goes to the bus station, where he plans to catch a bus that will take him deeper into Mississippi and Alabama. In the Negro restroom, he discovers a notice on the door, posted by a white man listing the prices he would be willing to pay for various sexual services from young black girls. Griffin is appalled, thinking miserably of all the girls who have been driven to prostitution by their poverty.

Griffin spends several days hitchhiking and riding buses through Mississippi and Alabama. In one town on the Gulf coast, he discovers that blacks are not allowed to use the public beaches, even though a gasoline tax that they are forced to pay is used to maintain them. He receives a ride from a kind white man from Massachusetts, who tells him about the reprisals he has faced from Southern whites for being kind to Negroes. In one town, Griffin tries to use a ramshackle outhouse near an ice cream stand, but the white owner of the stand bullies him away, forcing him to travel more than ten blocks to find a toilet. Griffin finds that, to his surprise, many Southern white men are willing to pick him up when he hitchhikes. But to his dismay, he discovers that many of them do so only so they can press him for lurid information about his sex life—they believe that black men are extremely sexualized creatures, and though they publicly condemn this perceived lack of morality, they secretly find it fascinating. One of them even asks to see his penis. Griffin tries to explain to him that white men are not the only people who possess moral capability, and that, if they were forced to live in ignorance and oppression in the ghettoes, they would sink to the same level as the Negroes in a very short time.

Griffin is at last picked up by a very friendly white construction worker, an Alabaman who seems not to have a racist thought in his head. The man is traveling home to his wife and their young child, and he tells Griffin quite openly about his feelings for his family. That night, Griffin is again impressed by the extraordinary capability of kindness some people possess: as he looks around for a place to sleep, he meets an old black man, a preacher, who takes him home and offers to let him stay with him as long as he likes.

Griffin spends three days looking for a job in Alabama, and experiences many of the same insults and hardships he encountered in New Orleans. He notes again the stupidity of segregation, which stipulates that a black man may buy items from a drug store, but may not sit at the soda fountain. In the South, even the most illustrious are forced to use Negro toilets and Negro cafes. At one plant Griffin visits, in Mobile, Alabama, he is told by the white foreman that not only will he never hire a black man, he hopes to run them all away from the factory. Only the black dockworkers can stay, because they are like pack animals or beasts of burden. Griffin recalls a time when, as a white man, he visited Mobile, and found it to be charming and civilized. Now, as a black man, he can hardly even recognize it.

Griffin gives up job-hunting in Mobile and continues to hitchhike through Alabama. He is picked up by another white man who insists on talking about the sexuality of Negroes, this time by boasting about how many black girls he has slept with. Griffin gets out of the car and walks down the highway. After several hours of walking, he stops at a roadside gas station to buy food and water. The old couple that runs the store first turns him away, but then, noting his exhaustion, allows him to buy a meal. As he eats, he notices that they are watching him suspiciously, and he leaves. He hitches a ride from a young black man who works in a sawmill. This man tells him that wealthy white men retain control over blacks by always keeping them in debt—no black man is allowed to pay off a debt in full. The young mill worker generously takes Griffin home and gives him a meal, though he and his wife have six children and very little money. Observing the man's children, Griffin remembers suddenly that it is his daughter's birthday. He thinks about the differences between his children's lives and the lives of these children, who do not even have clean beds or clothes.

The next day, Griffin reaches Montgomery, Alabama. He catches a glimpse of his face in a restroom mirror, and notices that along with his darkened skin color, he has acquired the defeated, hopeless expression he has often noticed on the faces of blacks. He calls his wife, and, after talking to her and to his children, feels reassured by his loving family.

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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.


by southafricasbest, January 12, 2016

He died in 1980, 19 years after 'Black Like Me' was published you tool. He died of diabetes just accept it.

Passed away from the skin dyes

by Lindainportland, July 07, 2016

I had always heard he passed away from what the skin dyes did to him as well.

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