The Powerful Memoir “Black Like Me!” A Timeless Exploration Of Race And Racism On This Wednesday Bookmobile…

Traveling Through The South As A Black Man…

This “Wednesday Bookmobile” is traveling to the past in order to address the present. “Black Like Me” may have been published 59 years ago, but it shows how much more still needs to be done in our society to address racial inequality.

As I have tried to understand the fear and anger felt by those who have faced prejudice, racism and even death just based on the color of their skin, I’ve been looking at some of media’s most powerful stories of oppression.

There are many places to find current information and updates.

This great blog included many way you can learn more and get involved….click here to see them all:

I wanted to also look back at how history has documented the civil rights struggle, and I remembered this book:

This is the original cover of the powerful memoir “Black Like Me”, which was first published in 1961, at the beginning of the civil rights movement.

It was a “call to action” at the time to understand life through someone else’s eyes. This “Wednesday Bookmobile” is headed back in time to a part of the United States where it was dangerous to be black….to re-read this nonfiction book, written by white journalist John Howard Griffin.

The memoir recounts his journey in the Deep South at a time when African-Americans lived under racial segregation. Author Griffin had his skin temporarily darkened in order to pass as a black man. His story is shocking.

The Author traveled for six weeks throughout the racially segregated states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, and Georgia to explore life from the other side of the color line. Sepia Magazine financed the project in exchange for the right to print the account as a series of articles.

Griffin kept a journal of his experiences; that 188-page diary was the genesis of the book. When he started his project in 1959, race relations in America were particularly strained.

Today of course, we are still struggling to address the issue of racism in our country, reading this memoir seems more timely than ever, and I just bought the 50th anniversary edition of the book with new material added.

The book was a sensation when published. Griffin received many letters of support. He said they helped him understand the experience.

Griffin became a national celebrity, and helped further the conversation, although civil rights were still years away.

In a 1975 essay included in later editions of the book, he recounted encountering hostility and threats to him and his family in his hometown of Mansfield, Texas. He moved to Mexico for a number of years for safety.

BLACK LIKE ME, James Whitmore, 1964

In 1964, a film version starring James Whoitmore was released. Both the film and the book are filled with sobering moments of racism that the Author experiences.

One story from the book tells about a bus trip the Author was on, and Griffin began to give his seat to a white woman, but disapproving looks from black passengers stopped him. He thought he had a momentary breakthrough with the woman, but she then insulted him and began talking with other white passengers about how “impudent” the blacks were becoming!

The book was a huge success, addressing the underlying racism the existed in that part of the country. Remember, schools were still segregated at the time, and so were public restrooms and more.

And here’s a sad footnote to the memoir. In 1964, while stopped with a flat tire in Mississippi, Griffin was assaulted by a group of white men and beaten with chains, an assault attributed to the book. It took five months to recover from the injuries.

America’s history of racism is well documented, but I got to see it up close:

I was in Jackson Mississippi and saw many signs from the “Freedom Trail” – shocking moments from our country’s past….click here to see more:

With the murder of George Floyd, racial tensions are heightened again…

President Barack Obama wrote a powerful essay on the times we are in right now – click here to read it:

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Let me know if you’ve read this powerful book, and no matter who you are, take the time to read this and understand why #blacklivesmatter!

Categories: Art, Books / Media, Memoirs, Movies, Politics, Pop Culture, Travel Memoir

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20 replies

  1. Haven’t read the book.Just now checked in Kindle and discovered it there. Planning to read it soon. Thanks for letting people know about this one 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ashamed to say I’ve not read or heard of this book, but now I have it’s been added to my reading list.


  3. Excellent book, and a great reminder that we still have far to go.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I am going to read it again because it shows where we were as a country only 60 years ago and how much still needs to change – thanks for commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

      • John, here is my memory of “Black Like Me”. I was 14, it was 1964. I lived in Huntington, West Virginia. James Brown was coming to the Field House for a concert! Only the cool white kids loved R&B. So many kids weren’t allowed to listen to ‘that music.’ I had to find Cousin Brucie on my bakelite radio at night to hear this great music. Really sad, but that’s how it was. My parents said I could go to the James Brown concert with two other friends (one of whom was a nerdy book reader who loved music). My Dad drove us, looked around before dropping us off, and I knew he was worried. No whites. I assured him everything was fine, and we all jumped out of the car before he changed his mind. The concert was packed, sold out. We were the ONLY white people there. That was big, three white girl teens at an all black event in the south in 1964. While waiting for the concert to begin, the nerdy book reader pulled out “Black Like Me” to read. I jumped out of my skin, convinced that someone would notice, or it might cause a problem. Nope. She read. All was fine, and the concert was awesome. No, I did not get his cape. And I was in my 40’s when I told my Dad that there were no other whites at the concert. Apologies for the long story. I think I may want to read the book again, too.


  4. Wonderful pick John. I read this years ago, but I think it’s time for a reread.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I remember reading this book in the late 60s as part of a course I was taking. It had a profound effect on me.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This book sounds so interesting John and I would love to read your thoughts on it once you have read the book.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I remember this for way back, and should read it ag

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I had never actually heard of the book, or the film. Thanks, John, it sounds fascinating, and still so relevant today.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I remember reading that book back in the day. Probably time to read it again.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. A very compelling book, John. That was quite a brave thing to do at the time and must be a fascinating and powerful read. I haven’t checked today but I hope things have settled down a bit in the US now. This whole thing is frightening.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Protest continue, but the violence surrounding them is easing a bit. I was forced to read this book back in school so I got the 50th anniversary updated version to read again…you’ve seen my posts about the signage in the deep south related to the civil rights movement…people forget that it was just 50+ years ago when there were segregated bathrooms in the south! I work with a group of younger people who simply don’t know the history of racial injustice in this country…and in a few cases don’t seem to care…that’s one reason we haven’t moved forward…

      Liked by 1 person

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