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.
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!