John Howard Griffin, the author and main character of Black Like Me, is a middle-aged white man living in Mansfield, Texas in 1959. Deeply committed to the cause of racial justice and frustrated by his inability as a white man to understand the black experience, Griffin decides to take a radical step: he decides to undergo medical treatment to change the color of his skin and temporarily become a black man. Griffin sets out for New Orleans to begin his life as a black man. He finds a contact in the black community; a soft-spoken, articulate shoe-shiner named Sterling Williams, and begins a dermatological regimen of exposure to ultraviolet light, oral medication, and skin dyes. Eventually, Griffin looks in the mirror and sees a black man looking back. He briefly panics, feeling that he has lost his identity, and then he sets out to explore the black community. Following his time spent in the black community he returns back to the white community. His return is marked by many different reactions; some are supportive of his trip, some indifferent, and some who despise him, particularly for their racist views.
Following Griffin’s experience and retelling of the events, he received several serious threats to him and his family. The threats even forced him to move to Mexico for a time, however he received several letters of support and encouragement as well.
Griffin’s novel was viewed as a very important piece of literature during the Civil Rights Movement, as it showed the real struggle that African Americans were experiencing, but from the perspective of a white man.
Griffin actually lived as a blind man for nearly a decade, however this was no experiment, he was injured in World War 2, and it is believed the injury led to him losing his sight, eventually it returned and Griffin resumed his literary career.
The overwhelming theme of this novel is racism