Black Like Me

Account of the trip

In the autumn of 1959, John Howard Griffin went to a friend's house in New Orleans, Louisiana. Once there, under the care of a dermatologist, Griffin underwent a regimen of large oral doses of the anti-vitiligo drug methoxsalen, trade name Oxsoralen, and spending up to fifteen hours daily under an ultraviolet lamp.[2]

Don Rutledge traveled with Griffin documenting the experience with photos.[3]

During his trip, Griffin abided by the rule that he would not change his name or alter his identity; if asked who he was or what he was doing, he would tell the truth.[4] In the beginning, he decided to talk as little as possible[5] to ease his transition into the social milieu of southern U.S. blacks. He became accustomed everywhere to the "hate stare" received from whites.

After he disguised himself, many people who knew John Howard Griffin as a white man did not recognize him. A black shoeshine man named Sterling Williams in the French Quarter, a man whom Griffin regarded as a friend, made no connection with his looks now that he was black. Because Griffin wanted assistance in integrating with the black community, he decided to tell Sterling that he was in fact the white man he'd met before. He first hinted that he wore the same unusual shoes as somebody else,[6] but Sterling still did not recognize him until Griffin told him.

In New Orleans, a black counterman at a small restaurant chatted with Griffin about the difficulties of finding a place to go to the bathroom. He turned a question about a Catholic church into a joke about "spending much of your time praying for a place to piss".

On a bus trip, 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 insulted him and began talking with other white passengers about how impudent the blacks were becoming.

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