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

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The author reads the news about how a Mississippi jury had refused to indict those guilty in the gruesome kidnap-lynch murder of Mack Parker, even though the FBI had compiled massive evidence identifying them. So the author decides to personally visit Mississippi, a state dreaded by the Negroes.

Before starting on his journey, he goes to cash some of his travelersí checks at a store, as the banks have already closed. But, he is refused everywhere. Only the white proprietress of a Catholic Bookstore willingly agrees. When he goes to buy a bus ticket he again receives the "hate stare," from the white woman issuing tickets, who also refuses to provide change for his ten-dollar note. Finally, under pressure, she hurls his change and ticket on the floor. Griffin learns that the waiting room is out of bounds for him and that he must go to the colored waiting room. When the bus arrives, whites are the first ones aloud to board.

In the first part of his journey, Griffin has a very interesting encounter with a Negro passenger. This man denounces his own race venomously and viciously. He soon earns the contempt of the other Negro passengers because of his haughty behavior. A considerate fellow passenger explains to Griffin about all the doís and dontís that he must follow while he is in Mississippi. Then the bus stops at a small town. Only the whites are allowed to go out to drink water or use the toilet. So one Negro passenger, in defiance, decides to urinate in the bus itself.

The bus then goes past the jail where Parker was violently dragged down the stairway, his head bumping against each step. Then it passes the courthouse where the jury had given the unjust and callous judgement and then the bus passes the creek, where Parkerís body was secretly dumped. Finally the author alights at his destination. He soon becomes the target of a car full of white brutes, wildly driving past, yelling obscenities and throwing tangerines at him.

That night, to momentarily forget the macabre death dance outside, the author tries writing to his wife, but is unable to do so. This is because the words of his fellow passenger keep echoing in his mind that, a Negro must never look at a white woman. One can see here that his Negroness comes in the way of his writing a letter to his wife. This shows the extent to which Griffin has become involved in his new life as a Negro. Then as another means of escape, he contacts a white journalist friend named East, who takes him to his home, even though it is embarrassing and dangerous. That night East gives him the manuscript of his very startling autobiography "The Magnolia Jungle" to read. It is so sharply incisive that the author just cannot stop reading it throughout the night.


In this entry in his dairy, the author again describes his one week of futile job-hunting; a week of weary rejection during which he personally experiences how the Negro is treated not even as a second class citizen, but as a tenth class one, because of his race, his pigmentation. How this destroys the Negroís sense of personal value, degrades his human dignity and deadens the fibers of his being. White racism once more unmasked!

The next part of the diary is about the police brutality and criminal injustice of the whites that the Negro often has to encounter. The author depicts this through the judgement in the Mack Parker kidnap lynch murder case in Mississippi. The jury here deliberately does not punish the accused white men in spite of having enough evidence against them. They do so mainly to destroy the morale of the Negroes.

The next part of the diary is about the authorís many clashes with racism even before he reaches Mississippi. For instance, when he has to cash some travelersí checks, he is refused everywhere, except in a Catholic Bookstore. When he goes to buy a bus ticket, the white lady ticket seller spouts and spews hate and loathing at him and he experiences what is referred to as the Ďhate stare.í Later he enters an empty waiting room and realizes that it is out of bounds for him and that he must go to the colored waiting room. In spite of these encounters with white racism, Griffin looks at these people, not with contempt, but compassion. This is because he realizes that these behaviors are a result of social conditioning. Another encounter with racism is when Griffin notices that the Negroes can enter the bus only after the whites have done so and must sit only at the back of the bus.

The author, here, also mentions brave white men and women, even if few and far between. One is the white woman owner of the Catholic Bookshop. The other is a white army officer who goes to the back of the queue, rather than ahead of the Negroes. Both are a rare phenomenon and a sharp contrast to the other white racists the author meets during the day.

During his journey, the author encounters another interesting character. This is a striking, tall, slender, elegantly dressed Negro, called Christophe, who gives the whites a fawning, tender look, but sneers at the Negroes. He is really peculiar as he keeps quarreling continuously with the other Negro passengers and creates a lot of stress and strain for the author as well. Here, one must try to understand the reason for his behavior. As a young man, he is aware of the lack of opportunities available to him, because of his skin color. His behavior here can be seen as his effort to gain some kind FreeecognitioStudy Guide ng up and speaking like tAnalysis do, he hopes to get their approval and be accepted as one of them. Later, the author meets another Negro, a concerned truck driver who is an example of the common Negroes, who comfort and console each other, advise and warn each other about what to watch out for from the whites.

Then todayís entry also contains an experience of deliberate white cruelty but also Negro defiance and Negro understanding, when at one stop, only the whites are allowed to go to the rest room by the white driver, while the Negroes are prevented. One Negro in defiance urinates on the floor of the bus and the others decide to follow him. However, they change their mind, when they realize that if they do so, whites would then say that the Negroes do not know how to use the rest rooms. Later there is still more racism in the raw for the author when he encounters a car full of white brutes speeding past, yelling obscenities at him and wildly throwing a tangerine at him.

The next part of the diary depicts the most poignant effect of the authorís deeply intense and all encompassing Negroness on his very soul and psyche. He attempts writing to his wife, but his conditioning as a Negro, surrounded by the sounds and smells of the ghetto, paralyses him. As a Ďblackí man he finds it absolutely impossible to address his wife, a white woman, as darling. This he finds extremely disturbing and troubling. Then even in Eastís car, he has grown so accustomed to being a Negro, to being shown contempt that, he is embarrassed to ride in the front seat with East. This jotting reveals how, for a Negro, fear is a part of his very being, while relief and rest, relaxation and recreation are luxuries.

The final part of todayís entry is about Eastís startling autobiography called "The Magnolia Jungle," which the author cannot stop reading through the night. In the autobiography, East is revealed as a white with an admirable lack of racial prejudice, who stubbornly preaches justice, and consistently exposes the racistsí false propaganda and unjust legislation. He is a most exceptional white, a man who is openly anti-racist, even at great risk to his life.


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