John Howard Griffin was a reporter in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. He heard about discrimination and segregation in the southern states. He was aware of the civil rights movement that was just starting to take hold in Montgomery, Alabama.
Griffen knew as a white man, he would never truly understand what life was like for the black people. Griffin wanted to know, “What is it like to experience discrimination based on skin color, something over which one has no control?”
Griffin found a dermatologist that was willing to prescribe medication that can cause a person’s skin to get darker. The medicine was normally used for people suffering with a skin disease that caused white blotches to appear on their skin. However, Griffin would need to take way more than the recommended dose. The doctor required blood test during the first few weeks to ensure there were no adverse effects.
Griffin also used sun lamps and a stain to help his skin get as dark as possible. Then he shaved his head and boarded a bus to New Orleans. He spent several weeks in New Orleans, before traveling to Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.
Griffin gives a detailed account of his experiences in his book, “Black Like Me.” He was surprised to see how helpful the black people were to a stranger. He was able to stay with various families and get to know what their life was really like.
At several points, he had to find a place to be alone. He would start crying at the injustice he was seeing, especially when children were involved. He was appalled by how some of the white people treated black children.
Griffin also described his interactions with white people. He was taken aback by how hateful some people behaved. He was amazed by the cruelty he experienced. He would listen to white people talk about their moral and intellectual superiority; however, their behavior was a far cry from what they claimed to be.
He also talked about the people involved in the civil rights movement. He encountered a group of white people actively working with the black community to improve conditions. They were being targeted by their own race and viewed as race traitors. However, they believed everyone should be treated with dignity and respect. They continued fighting for equality in spite of the persecution.
The book is moving and well written. You can easily picture the surroundings, the people, and the situations. You can feel what the author was feeling. This truly is a book worth reading.