Estimated read time: 6 min read

One Sentence Summary

A white man undergoes medical treatment to change his skin color in order to experience life as a black man in the segregated American South.


"Black Like Me" is a thought-provoking and impactful book written by John Howard Griffin. Originally published in 1961, the book chronicles Griffin's experiences as a white man who undergoes medical treatment to change the color of his skin in order to experience life as a black man in the segregated American South. The book provides a poignant and eye-opening account of the racial discrimination prevalent during that time and continues to be a significant work in the discourse on race and identity.

Brief Synopsis

Plot Overview

The story is set in the late 1950s and follows the remarkable journey of the author, John Howard Griffin. Griffin, a white journalist from Texas, decides to undergo a daring experiment to experience firsthand the harsh realities faced by African Americans living in the racially segregated southern states. With the help of a dermatologist, Griffin uses medication and sunlamp treatments to darken his skin and passes as a black man. He then travels through the southern states, encountering the stark realities of racism, discrimination, and segregation.


The book is primarily set in various cities and towns across the Southern United States, including New Orleans, Mississippi, and Alabama. During this period, racial segregation was legally enforced, and African Americans faced systemic discrimination in all aspects of daily life, from education and employment to basic human rights and dignity.

Main Characters

The book primarily revolves around the experiences and observations of the author, John Howard Griffin, during his time posing as a black man. Other significant characters include the individuals he encounters during his journey, both white and black, who provide insight into the racial dynamics and attitudes prevalent in the segregated South.

John Howard GriffinThe author and protagonist who undergoes the transformation to experience life as a black man. He is a compassionate and empathetic individual with a deep desire to understand the struggles of African Americans.
Various IndividualsThroughout his journey, Griffin encounters a diverse range of individuals, both white and black, who shape his understanding of the racial dynamics in the South. These individuals represent a spectrum of attitudes and prejudices, offering a multifaceted view of the society at that time.

Chapter Summaries

Chapter 1-3

Griffin begins his transformation process, using medication and sunlamp treatments to darken his skin. He grapples with the emotional and psychological impact of his physical change, knowing that he will now be perceived and treated as a black man in a deeply segregated society.

Chapter 4-6

As a newly transformed black man, Griffin sets out on his journey through the Southern states, encountering various instances of racial prejudice and discrimination. He experiences firsthand the hostility and inequality faced by African Americans in public spaces, transportation, and social interactions.

Chapter 7-9

Griffin delves deeper into the complexities of racial identity as he interacts with individuals from different walks of life. He witnesses the resilience and dignity of the black community in the face of adversity, while also confronting the deeply ingrained prejudices held by many white individuals.

Chapter 10-12

The author's experiences as a black man lead him to profound realizations about the pervasive impact of systemic racism on every aspect of life for African Americans. He grapples with the moral and ethical implications of his experiment and the personal transformation it has ignited within him.

Main Events

  1. Griffin's Transformation: The pivotal moment when Griffin undergoes the medical treatment to change the color of his skin, marking the beginning of his journey into the world of racial segregation and discrimination.
  2. Encounters with Prejudice: Griffin's interactions with various individuals, both white and black, reveal the stark realities of racial prejudice and discrimination, highlighting the pervasive nature of racism in the Southern states.
  3. Personal Reflections: Throughout his journey, Griffin undergoes profound personal and emotional reflections, grappling with the ethical implications of his experiment and the deep impact it has on his understanding of race and identity.

Themes and Insights


  1. Racial Discrimination: The book delves into the pervasive and entrenched nature of racial discrimination, shedding light on the systemic injustices faced by African Americans during the era of segregation.
  2. Identity and Empathy: Griffin's transformation prompts profound reflections on the nature of identity and the importance of empathy in understanding the experiences of others, particularly those from marginalized communities.
  3. Social Injustice: The narrative exposes the social injustice prevalent in the segregated South, challenging readers to confront the harsh realities of inequality and prejudice.


The book offers a powerful insight into the lived experiences of African Americans during a tumultuous period in American history. Through Griffin's journey, readers gain a deeper understanding of the profound impact of racism on individuals and society as a whole, while also highlighting the transformative power of empathy and understanding.

Reader's Takeaway

"Black Like Me" is a compelling and eye-opening narrative that challenges readers to confront the enduring legacy of racial discrimination and segregation. Through Griffin's poignant account, readers gain a deeper appreciation for the complexities of racial identity and the importance of empathy in bridging divides. The book serves as a powerful reminder of the ongoing struggle for equality and justice, resonating with readers on a personal and societal level.


In conclusion, "Black Like Me" stands as a poignant and enduring testament to the enduring struggle for racial equality and understanding. Through John Howard Griffin's courageous and impactful journey, the book offers valuable insights into the complexities of race, identity, and empathy, leaving a lasting impression on readers and continuing to spark important conversations about social justice and equality.

Black Like Me FAQ

  1. What is 'Black Like Me' about?

    Black Like Me is a non-fiction book by John Howard Griffin, in which the author recounts his experiences traveling through the racially segregated Southern United States disguised as a black man. He explores the harsh realities of racism and discrimination during the 1950s.

  2. Is 'Black Like Me' based on a true story?

    Yes, 'Black Like Me' is based on the true experiences of the author, John Howard Griffin, who underwent a transformation to appear as a black man and documented the discrimination and prejudice he encountered.

  3. What is the significance of 'Black Like Me'?

    The book 'Black Like Me' is significant as it provides a firsthand account of the challenges faced by African Americans in a segregated society. It sheds light on the harsh realities of racism and serves as a powerful tool for promoting understanding and empathy.

  4. Who should read 'Black Like Me'?

    Anyone interested in understanding the impact of racism and segregation in American society would benefit from reading 'Black Like Me'. It is particularly relevant for those interested in civil rights history and social justice issues.

  5. What themes are explored in 'Black Like Me'?

    The book explores themes such as racial identity, discrimination, empathy, and the human experience. It delves into the complexities of race relations and the impact of prejudice on individuals and communities.