Little Known Black History Fact: ‘Black Like Me’

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    “Black Like Me” is a non-fiction book by white journalist John Howard Griffin first published in 1961. The title of the book is taken from the last line of the Langston Hughes poem “Dream Variations.”

    The book describes Griffin’s six-week experience traveling on Greyhound buses throughout the racially segregated states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia passing as a black man in 1959.

    Under the care of a doctor, John Griffin artificially darkened his skin to pass as a black man using large oral doses of the anti-vitiligo drug Oxsoralen and spent up to fifteen hours daily under an ultraviolet lamp. He changed the length of his hair and used makeup to fill in any unevenly toned areas.

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    3 thoughts on “Little Known Black History Fact: ‘Black Like Me’

    1. Thank you for this article Erica. Another great one! Thanks Charles Henry Atkinson for the additional history. John Howard Griffin was a remarkable individual.

    2. 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 He wrote five novels during this period, of which three remained unpublished.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.

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