Search Menu

Black Like Me

John Howard Griffin


December 9, 1959–January 2, 1960

page 1 of 2


Griffin again transforms himself into a black man for his return to New Orleans. Rutledge travels with him through the city, taking pictures at all the places he spent time at during his earlier stay there. As they take the pictures, they receive stares of curiosity and suspicion from whites, who seem to be wondering why would a white photographer want to photograph blacks? They also receive distrust from blacks, whose natural inclination is to avoid notice. Griffin takes Rutledge to the shoeshine stand to meet Sterling and Joe. Sterling is overjoyed to see Griffin. Rutledge is shaken by the experience: witnessing the lives of blacks from such an intimate vantage point forces him to confront his own social privilege. He sees that Griffin's life has completely changed simply because he assumed a black identity; he is no longer able to go to the same places, speak to the same people, or use the same facilities as before.

After several days as a black man in New Orleans, Griffin lightens his skin and resumes life as a white man. In the past, leaving behind his black alter ego has made him feel relief and elation, but today, it makes him feel a strange sense of nostalgia and sadness. Part of him does not want to leave black society, which has become so familiar to him in the past weeks. Having made the suffering of black Americans his own, he feels that to return to life as a white man is to take an easy escape.

After making the photo record, after having spent nearly two months as a black man, Griffin gives up his black identity for good and returns home, a white man again. He is resolved to tell his story to the world, though he fears that speaking out will only attract reprisals from white racists and hate groups. Griffin's wife and children greet him at the airport, and he is thrilled to see them. But part of him is terrified that what he has done will cause them to be hurt.

Griffin speaks to George Levitan, the publisher of Sepia, about his project. Levitan again warns Griffin of the dangers he will expose himself to if he allows his story to be published. He tells Griffin that he would understand if he chose to cancel his contract with the magazine and keep his experiences to himself. But Griffin insists that he wants his story to be published. It is vitally important to him to tell the truth, and to offer hope to the black community that there are whites who understand their plight, whites who are willing to fight for them. He and Levitan at last agree to publish the article in two months, enough time for Griffin to gain perspective on his experience and to write his story.


This short section brings closure to Griffin's time as a black man, and inaugurates the final phase of the book. In the first phase of the book, we saw Griffin think up his plan to become a black man and put it into action; in the second phase, which takes up most of the story, we saw him live out his experiment and learn about life as a black American. Now, in the third phase of the book, we learn about what happens to Griffin after his experiment, as he resumes his normal life with his family, writes his story, and deals with the social consequences of his search for the truth.

There are three significant narrative developments in this section. The first is the brief focus on Don Rutledge's feelings as he photographs black New Orleans and confronts his own social privilege. This is a strong example of how love and understanding can transform one's mindset, causing one to reject the social assumptions that have been ingrained in one's mind from childhood. Rutledge is a white man who lives in the South, and yet because of his experiences in New Orleans, he is able to face the social conditioning of his racist society, and to begin to understand what life is like for blacks under segregation.

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.


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.

See all 5 readers' notes   →

Marketing Management / Edition 15

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5®) / Edition 5