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Free Study Guide for Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin BookNotes

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This book is an autobiographical diary of John Howard Griffin, a white journalist from Texas, who undergoes medical treatment to temporarily color his skin black, so that he can understand what it is like to be a Negro in a land of racial segregation. It is a journal of the authorís personal experiences living as a Negro.

For six weeks the author, who is from Texas, hitchhikes or walks, takes a bus or trudges the streets of four other Southern states of Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Georgia, all of which treat the Negroes as tenth class citizens.


Major Characters

John Howard Griffin
A sensitive white journalist. The whole book is a shocking account of his personal experiences, when he transforms himself temporarily into a Negro for six weeks. During this period, he suffers raw hate and violence, crudity and inhumanity, from the white racists.

Minor Characters

The minor characters are many, both white and black, friend and foe. Most are nameless, even faceless. But they are memorable because they are either antagonistic or thoughtless to the author, or else kind or sympathetic to him. They are the vehicles through which the author experiences either white racism or white sympathy, black solidarity or black antagonism. One memorable black character is Sterling Williams, the authorís first contact in the Negro community. One remarkable white is the journalist P. D. East, who is a very brave, sensitive and committed journalist.



The protagonist is the author himself. He sets out on a personal quest to discover what it is really like to be a Negro. He experiences how, many freedoms and rights that he enjoyed as a privileged white are now forbidden to him. This is a grim and bitter eye-opener for him. In addition, he encounters many racial barriers that exist between whites and blacks, which totally destroys the dignity and self worth of the blacks. But he is unwavering in his will to explain and expose bitter racism.


The antagonists are not one, but many. They are the numerous rabid white racists the author meets during his transformation into a black man. They deliberately spew racial poison and almost provoke racial unrest so as to negate and annihilate the very identity of blacks and their deep yearning for liberty and equality. Though nameless and faceless, their raw racism is indelible.


The climax of the book is reached when some white racists of the authorís hometown hang his effigy on the main street, burn a cross at the local Negro school, and threaten to castrate him. This is very painful for the authorís family and he is finally forced to flee America for security to Mexico.


The book ends tragically, with the ominous fear that the blood, sweat and tears the blacks have suffered at the hands of the vicious and venomous white racists, will force ever increasing numbers of innocent blacks towards becoming black racists themselves. Racists, who will then haunt and hound innocent whites, in retaliation for what they (Negroes) have suffered for centuries.


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