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

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DECEMBER 7, 1959


The author has spent the last three days interviewing various Negro leaders, attorneys, businessmen, Reverends, financiers, industrialists and intellectuals in Atlanta and had the most splendid help and cooperation from them. They are men of leadership quality, of high education, long vision and great dynamism. In addition they are keen upon doing everything within their power to negate the white manís image of the loud, brassy and pushy Negro. He confides in them his experiences as a Negro. Finally, he decides to go back to New Orleans and together with a sensitive white photographer, take photographs of all his earlier haunts, while he was a Negro, as proof of his Negro existence.


This part of the diary is about the authorís memorable encounters with exceptional Negroes, in an exceptional city like Atlanta. The author is pleasantly surprised interviewing these men with name and fame about their remarkable achievements, in spite of the racistsí powerful hold on both whites and Negroes. Griffin reveals how the Negroes in Atlanta have united in a common goal and purpose. How the city has an enlightened administration and especially a press that is sympathetic to the Negro cause. In other places, most newspapers practice the culture of silence about anything remotely favorable to the Negro. His achievements are carefully excluded, or when they demand attention they are handled in such a manner as to give the impression that anything good the individual Negro does, is not typical of his race. But Atlanta is an exception, a thriving intellectual oasis.

But it was not always so. And the next part of the diary is the contrast between the situation now with the earlier slave years, when any attempt at literacy among Negroes was severely punished. In some communities a Negroís right hand was mutilated if he learned to read and write. In spite of this, Negroes struggled hard for the right to enter the world of education and knowledge.

The next part describes two such brave Negro economists, who with uncanny foresight realized that so long as the Negro had to depend on white banks to finance his projects for improvement and development he was at the mercy of the white man. So they founded two banks so that the Negro community could get some economic leverage and could also purchase houses. These Negro leaders were deeply imbued with a sense of responsibility toward their community and so Atlanta has miles and miles of splendid Negro homes, which have destroyed the cliche that whenever Negroes move into an area the property values go down. Besides, the Negro in Atlanta has also begun to have a voice and be elected in the government. No wonder Atlanta is a unique city for the Negroes.

The final part of the diary is about faith and hope in the white man in other parts of the globe, like Europe. The author meets a Negro pianist who tells him how in Paris she could attend concerts to her fill, she could walk into any door, she was a human being first and last and not dismissed as a Negro. Unique indeed!

DECEMBER 9, 1959


The author resumes his Negro identity in New Orleans. The white photographer Rutledge goes around photographing Griffin at those places that he used to frequent earlier as a Negro. It is not a very easy task as the blacks do not like the idea of being photographed by a white. The author goes to the shoeshine stand to meet his friend Sterling, who is delighted to see him. This entire process comes as an eye-opener for the white photographer.


Todayís entry is about the author vividly describing the actions and reactions to him being photographed as a Negro by a white photographer friend, when they go out together to take out photographs of the authorís Negro existence. Now a Negro being photographed by a white arouses curiosity, as whites wonder, what Negro celebrity is he? It equally arouses the suspicions of the Negroes who think that every Negro should bury his head in the sand and hide away from public gaze. They distrust any Negro prominent enough to be photographed by a white photographer.

But this whole exercise is an eye-opener for the white photographer, as this takes him deep inside the problem of racism. He realizes how, as a white, he has access to any kind of facilities but Griffin now, as a Negro, does not have a right over any facilities. So he abstains.


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