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Black Like Me

John Howard Griffin


November 25–29

page 1 of 2


In Montgomery, Griffin notices a number of differences in the black community. First and foremost among them is a sense of determination, strength, and common purpose. In Montgomery, Martin Luther King, Jr., is preaching a philosophy of passive resistance as a way to fight racism, and the black community is putting his words into practice. They refuse to acknowledge racism, refuse to follow its rules, and refuse to be provoked by whites who attempt to confront or punish them. Because of their total passivity, the white racists are baffled because before using violence against blacks, most whites unconsciously feel that they must first provoke the black person to anger. When Negroes refused to be provoked, the whites are at a loss for what to do.

After more than three weeks as a black man, Griffin feels deflated and saddened at the thought of experiencing any more prejudice, hostility, or hatred. He decides to stop taking his medication for a while in order to lighten his skin color and see how white society will appear to him after leaving his experiences as a Negro behind. After spending a day out of the sunlight and off his medication, Griffin re-emerges as a white man. He checks out of his hotel, and heads for the white part of town.

The experience is almost overwhelming. Where he has become accustomed to having his actions limited, his presence regarded with suspicion, and his words derided by whites, he now finds that everywhere he goes, whites are friendly and pleasant to him, while blacks treat him with submission and fear. He passes a black teenager on an empty street, and the young man, fearing that Griffin will bully him, threatens Griffin with a switchblade. Griffin checks into a luxurious hotel, and is almost shocked that he is allowed to enter the lobby unchecked. The white employees treat him with courtesy and respect, and a black porter bows and offers to carry his bag. Inwardly, Griffin's emotions are painfully conflicted. He feels elated at the freedom, mobility, and leverage he has suddenly regained, but deeply saddened at the realization that he is, once again, utterly removed from the experience of the suffering blacks.

Griffin wanders through Montgomery, seeing the city as a white man. He notices that he no longer receives the Hate Stare from whites, but that blacks react to his gaze with the same distrust that he once experienced from whites. He wanders through the black part of town alone, sensing fear and suspicion all around him. He realizes that blacks and whites truly have no conception of what life is like for the other race: blacks too often tell whites what they want to hear, and whites too readily believe it.


The first part of this section, the November 25 diary entry, is a wonderful firsthand account of the black community in Montgomery during the time of Martin Luther King, Jr. King's idea of passive resistance—quietly and nonviolently refusing to obey unjust laws and orders as the way to combat social injustice—was derived from the work of Thoreau and the life of Gandhi. In the 1950s and '60s, it became a powerful catalyst for the Civil Rights movement, ultimately galvanizing much of the nation behind King's ideas.

Now, in the late '50s, King's influence is felt powerfully in his hometown of Montgomery, and Griffin chronicles the palpable differences in the black community there: whereas blacks in other cities are hopeless and defeated, blacks in Montgomery seem determined and optimistic. Ironically, their commitment to nonviolence has essentially taken away the option of violence among many whites, as well—if blacks refuse to fight back, or even to be angered, many white men feel that they cannot put blacks back "in their place" by slapping or beating them, as they have often done in the past.

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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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