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

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John Howard Griffin - BIOGRAPHY

John Howard Griffin was born on June 16, 1920 in Dallas, Texas. He was the second son of four children born to John Walter and Lena May (Young) Griffin. He went to R. L. Paschal high school in Fort Worth, Texas and left at the age of fifteen to continue his education in Europe. He attended the Lycée Descartes in Tours, France and then studied French and literature at the University of Poitiers. He studied medicine at the École de Médecine. His experience in France led to his discovering the great racial hatred in his homeland. Blacks were not treated the same way in France, and this experience led to his commitment to understand racism.

At the age of nineteen, he worked in the underground French Resistance Army as a medic, as part of his service, he helped evacuating Austrian Jews to ships at St. Nazaire to rescue them from the Nazis. He then served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during the war in the South Pacific. He was decorated for bravery and was wounded in WW II.

He was blind from 1946 - 1957 as a result of injuries he had sustained during the war. He wrote five novels during this period, of which three remained unpublished. The Devil Rides Outside and Nuni were published in 1952 and 1956 respectively. Remarkably, he unexpectedly regained his eyesight in 1957 and resolved to use this vision to do something good for racial injustice.

Griffin married a woman while he was in the Pacific during World War II but later married Elizabeth Ann Holland in Texas. They had four children. Griffin died in Fort Worth on September 9, 1980 from complications of diabetes.

Griffin's published books include:

The Devil Rides Outside (1952)
Nuni (1956)
Land of the High Sky (1959)
Black Like Me
The Church and the Black Man (1969)
A Time to be Human
Jacques Maritain: Homage in Words and Pictures (1974) Photography
Twelve Photographic Portraits
(1973) Photography
A Hidden Wholeness
The Hermitage Journals (1981)
Follow the Ecstasy: Thomas Merton, the Hermitage Years, 1965-1968


The book starts on October 28, 1959, and ends on August 17, 1960. Thus the period which the author describes is the 1950ís. This was a period of bitter racism practiced by the whites and a time of deep and intense yearning for righteousness by the blacks.

During these years, America was two separate and unequal societies -- segregated between the races -- one black and one white, without any real communication between the two. For the blacks, there was widespread racial discrimination and segregation, oppression and inequality. They suffered poverty, hunger and homelessness. They were unprotected and unrepresented, unemployed and denied healthcare or welfare. They were hated and persecuted, deprived of jobs and justice, opportunities and protection. They were oppressed by white society and commonly victims of police brutality and prejudicial treatment within the justice system. They had no equal civil rights and this hopeless despair of social alienation drained them and broke their spirits and made them silently pessimistic or violently angry. They could only dream and hope for liberty, equality and justice.

On the other hand, white America was also further subdivided between the more democratic North and the more racist South. This is because the war against Negro slavery was waged more militantly in the North under the leadership of Abraham Lincoln, while in the South slavery remained and the underlying discrimination against blacks was maintained for much longer.

Only after Martin Luther King and other revolutionary leaders marched on Washington in 1963 demanding their rights, was segregation finally outlawed and voting rights granted to all Negroes.

This book has always been controversial. It has been burned, protested, and many do not believe it should be available to children, due to the facts it sets forth about racism and the subject matter it contains.

Black Like Me received the following honors:

Saturday Review
Anisfield Wolf Award (1962)
Christian Culture Series Award
National Council of Negro Women's Award
Pope John XIII Pacen in Terris Peace and Freedom Award


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