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

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Note: While the author did create his diary as he went through the process. He did not actually put it in the form of a book until later. He later recalled the entries of his diary into a novel that encompasses his thoughts and ultimately his message. While that does not change the content of the entries and experiences related in his diary, you should keep in mind that the novel was written afterwards. The cumulative message of the story, while certainly consistent to the real events, was written from the perspective of the author's goal, which was to document the opression of the black race in American society as he saw it first-hand (both white and black). The experiences contained within, whether real or embellished, express the author's intent to portray society as he had seen it or wanted to express it. The messages are clear, but it is not a true diary.

OCTOBER 28, 1959


The book begins as a diary of the white writer, John Howard Griffin. For years the author has been living in Texas and specializing in racial issues. For quite some time now, the author is haunted by a particular idea; what would it be like, if a white man became a black man in the deep South. As the book opens, he is deeply disturbed by a report about the rise in suicides among the blacks. He wants to probe the cause for this and he realizes that he can only do so, if he himself becomes a Negro and personally experiences discrimination based on skin color. But at the same time, he also realizes that the whole idea is very mysterious and frightening.


In this first entry in the autobiographical diary of the author, the readers are given a short but sharp character sketch of the author. The readers learn about his deep concern and sensitivity towards the blacks at a time of rabid white racism. He wishes to reach out to the blackss, communicate with them, understand their problems and then reveal it to the white world. He is humble enough to recognize that he knows little of the Negroís situation, even though he is a specialist in racial issues.

Griffin knows that a white man cannot understand the problems that the blacks are facing. This is mainly because of the hostility and the mistrust that exists between both sides. He therefore decides to go ahead with the idea that had been in his mind for a long time, that is, change the color of his skin into black and see, first hand, the kind of lives that the blacks are living. He admits to himself that the idea, though effective, is quite frightening. Nevertheless he decides to go ahead.

OCTOBER 29, 1959


The author discusses his plan with an old friend, the owner of a black magazine, Sepia, who is a unique person. Griffin asks him to finance this experiment and in return he will give him some articles or some chapters from the book he will write. George can publish the diary in his magazine. He also discusses his plan with a female editor of the magazine. Both warn him against the dangers of the project, but Griffin is not deterred. Finally he discusses his idea with his wife who though shocked and startled at first, later readily agrees to cooperate. He later goes back to his barn office and as he sits there alone, he suddenly experiences an accute feeling of dread.


In this part of the diary, the reader meets George Levitan, the owner of Sepia, an international black magazine, who is also a unique character for that time and age, as he offers equal job opportunities to whites or blacks, choosing only according to their qualifications and capabilities. George finds the authorís plan a crazy idea and tells him that heíll get himself killed. But later his sense of justice gets the better of him and he enthusiastically agrees to fund the authorís idea. He then suggests that the author also meet the editor of Sepia, Mrs. Adele Jackson, before embarking on his plans. She is an exceptional and distinguished editor, who also is rightly apprehensive about the authorís idea and considers it frightening, as he will become the target of hate groups and even decent whites will be afraid to show him courtesy. But in spite of all their warnings, the author still remains steadfast in his historic decision to become a Negro.

Finally the readers are introduced to Griffinís wife, who, though shocked at first, subsequently agrees to look after their three children, single handedly, in his absence; It is a brave and courageous act for her to follow her husband's dream.

Finally in this dayís entry, you sense the authorís very vivid and moving description of the still, silent night. The nature around him is very symbolic of the loneliness and the terrible dread the author is feeling inside regarding his momentous decision.


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