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on 11 November 2016
A most unusual piece of reporting that even after this length of time, (John Griffin's investigative journey into America's Deep South took place in 1959), remains quite startling.

In order to find out what it was really like to be a Black Man in the Deep South at that time John Griffin turned himself into a Negro by means of medicine and a sunray lamp. Not one person suspected that he was not what he appeared to be, although he had to shave his head since he did not have kinky hair.

In this guise, he was able to learn from the Negroes of the South what their daily life was really like. Talking to a white reporter, not one of them would have dared to give their actual views. He was constantly shocked by his contact with white men in the region and their deep-rooted contempt for their black neighbours. He refers constantly to the "hate stare" to which he was subjectd, and also underwent a number of frightening and deeply shocking incidents.

The publication of his experiences after his return had deeply reactions. His account was published both in magazine and in book form. He also gave radio and TV interviews and numerous lectures. Adverse reaction caused him, his family and his elderly parents to move from his hometown in Texas to Mexico. He was also severely beaten up by the Ku Klux Klan and an effigy of him was hung up in the main street of the town where he lived.

The book is still in print and has many relevant points to make on interracial relations. The paperback edition that I bought was published in 2016. It contains photographs of Mr Griffin as a black man.

I was uncertain about such a venture before I started reading the book, but I found it extremely interesting. My only mistake was to take it on a weekend away, as I would not recommend it for light holiday reading! Otherwise I can recommend it unreservedly.
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on 8 March 2017
The title of this interesting book is a line from a poem about the night being ‘black like me’.

This book, better known in the USA than here, is by a white Texan who in 1959, by a process I did not know was possible, by a combination of medical treatment and staining his skin, became dark enough to pass as a black man. For several weeks he travelled through the American Deep South as a black, to see what it was like.

To observe how people treated him when nothing was different but the colour of his skin, the author John Griffin changed as little else about himself as possible. He used his own name and did not try to change the way he spoke. If asked his occupation, whether he was married, etc. he gave the answers he would normally.

These were the days of open discrimination, some by enforced by law and some by custom backed up by the implicit threat of violence from whites. Blacks often had to walk miles to find one of the few ‘coloured’ ‘rest rooms’ (American for ‘toilet’) or somewhere they were allowed to buy something to eat or drink, or just to sit down, even when they passed many such places for whites along the way.

When ‘black’, Griffin was greeted with silence and hostile stares in stores where a few days before, as a white man, he had been welcomed with smiles and conversation. On the other hand, once he reverted to being white, he sometimes encountered suspicion and hostility in black neighbourhoods where he had recently been welcomed as a ‘black’.

He began to understand the frustrations of blacks who, like whites, had to pay taxes, but, either by law or because of hostility or violence from whites, could not use facilities like parks and libraries that their taxes helped to pay for.

Applying as a 'black' for a skilled job In Mississippi, the author was openly told by a manager that he could not be considered for it because they were removing blacks from all jobs except ones that no white would want to do, and that they hoped eventually to drive blacks out of the state altogether.

Hitch-hiking as a black man he found that white men would give him lifts, but only after dark, so they would not be seen sharing a car with a black. However, most did so in the hope that as a negro (as they were called then) he led a debauched sex life, and could tell them about sexual practices they secretly envied, but would not dream of suggesting to their wives.

One, a businessman, and a respectable, church-going family man among whites, boasted of how he required his younger black female employees to have sex with him. Many were too desperate to keep their jobs and wages to refuse.

When the author later went public about his time being ‘black’ and what he experienced, he received death threats from white racists, and an effigy of him was found at daybreak hanged in the Main Street of his home town. However, he also received many messages of support, including from many southern whites who were unhappy about the racial discrimination they saw around them but dared not say so for fear of violence by other whites or ostracism by their families and communities. The author said this showed that segregation made both whites and blacks unfree, although it was worse for blacks of course.

The book ends with a series of afterthoughts added to various editions of the work by the author, or an editor after his death, showing changes in perspective over the years. These are not overall quite as interesting as the rest of the book but are still offer some interesting insights e.g.

-Prominent ‘civil rights’ (anti-racial segregation and pro-racial equality) leaders of the 1960s, whom he came to know, including Martin Luther King, believed that it was only a matter of time before they were assassinated, but went on campaigning for their cause anyway.

-After living as a black man in the Deep South for just a few weeks, Griffin found that for years afterwards white liberals from all over the USA went to him when they wanted to know about the black experience, and he had to point out to them that it made more sense to ask real black people in their own localities.

- Perhaps in reaction to such unthinkingly patronising attitudes from some white liberals, and as the optimism of the 1960s civil rights movement, despite its achievements, faded, by the 1970s many blacks now wanted their own purely black institutions. Whites progressives who had for years taught in black colleges or been active in organisations campaigning for the rights of blacks found themselves no longer wanted there. Griffin saw some of them become so embittered that they reverted to crude racial prejudice. Yet he himself remained consistently opposed to segregation and in favour of equality and reconciliation between races.

- Griffin’s time being ‘black’ was only one of several remarkable things he did in his life. As a schoolboy he took up a scholarship to study in France despite not speaking French, and was there when the Germans invaded in 1940. As a then ‘neutral’ (the USA was not yet in the War) he took considerable risks helping Jews escape the Nazi occupiers, and had to flee himself when he fell under suspicion by the Gestapo. Later while serving in the American Army in World War II in the Pacific, he suffered injuries that left him completely blind, apparently permanently. He nevertheless married and had children. After years of being blind, Griffin unexpectedly recovered his sight and could see what his wife and children looked like for the first time. An attempt by the authorities to ban his first book led to a court case that helped to define what is an obscene publication and still influences the law today.

A more recent and, to me, good counterpart to Griffin’s book, although written in a very different style, is Norah Vincent’s ‘Self-Made Man’, about a woman's experience living disguised as a man, to see what differences it made to how people treated her, and what men were like when they thought they were in all male company.
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on 6 May 2017
Such a poignant story, I was gobsmacked that I had not heard of John Howard Griffin prior to picking up this book at a charity shop. My sister borrowed it after I had finished (making clear I wouldn't get it back). But I enjoyed this book so much that I had to buy a copy for my private collection. It is a great insight into the times and a good starting point for reading, research and discussions.
The book came on schedule in perfect condition along with a free Audible trial and bookmark :)
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VINE VOICEon 23 November 2013
. This is so well written . This story took the news headlines in its time. A true story of John Howard Griffin who decided to see what it really was like to live as a black man with the prejudices and limitations afforded in 1959 in America. Griffin was carefully monitored with drugs and other treatments to turn his skin colour. He was very aware that the treatment given could he harmful however he was determined to see what daily life was like for black people. This was at a time of segregation and you cannot but admire Griffin for going through and recording his findings. But this reads like a thriller . It should be read by all. It highlights how a segregated community become joined in their struggle and how one can only really understand the situation of innate alienation of people of different colour. Only by changing his colour which gave him no voice and little choice did he understand the ghetto life. In this Edition Robert Banazzi wrote a chapter entitled ' Afterword' in 2009. It deals with Howard Griffin's life leading up to 1959. An incredible life.
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on 31 January 2013
What an amazing man. As a Brit and knowing a bit about American civil rights( same as the average person)my eyes were opened to just how difficult it was for black Americans, he gave me such an insight into that period of time. Putting himself in great danger he was certainly changed by the experience.I bought this book after hearing a programme on the BBC World Service, it was a recorded conversation with him after his experience. If you love reading about inspiring people or are interested in American history then you should enjoy this. I hope children in America are still being taught about him.
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on 25 September 2012
Black Like Me I bought this book, having read it some 25 years ago when it was on my daughter's GCSE list, to see if its impact is just as hard in the 21st century as it was then. It is. The effect of going black was devastating for the author, who had set out to see what difference skin colour had in society. His journey to New Orleans and Missippi in the late 1950s affected the rest of his life. The edition I read with an update of Griffin's lecture tours, interviews and friendships was enlightening. He was an amazing human being.
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on 6 September 2010
An interesting well written book of observations on Black/White reltions in the deep south of the USA. If I had read this in the early seventies I would probably have been quite shocked, but with age and knowledge it becomes a powerful indicment of the way that black people were treated. It is strange that a country that fought a war of Indepence based on being treated fairly an equally, then a Ciivil War almost one hundred years later - of which part of the reason was freeing slaves, then took a further one hundred years to start to realise that what counted was not the colour of someone's skin, but what somebody has in their heart and mind. It's a shame that there are still narrow minded, ignorant people still around who still seem to fail to grasp this. I can understand why it's a required read in schools.
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on 24 April 2016
This book is fantastic! It is very well written and kept me gripped from start to finish. It was a really good read I struggled to put it down.
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on 7 November 2016
For a short book of about 200 pages, it packs a mighty punch.
A must read!!!
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on 29 December 2015
What a great book! This should be standard curriculum material. Uncomfortable reading at times but this makes for amazing reading. And to think this was written only a couple of generations ago. To place yourself in anothers shoes (and face in this case) opens your eyes to another world. Highly recommended reading
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