Black Like Me

by

John Howard Griffin

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Black Like Me: April 2, 1960 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Griffin is awoken in the morning by a phone call from a newspaper in Fort Worth, Texas. The reporter on the other end of the call tells him that he has been “hanged in effigy from the center red-light wire downtown on Main Street” in Mansfield. Apparently, a group of racists strung up a dummy meant to portray Griffin, and the reporter now wants to know what he thinks of the matter. Later, after someone takes down the dummy and throws it away, it appears once again, this time hanging from a sign that says, “$25.00 FINE FOR DUMPING DEAD ANIMALS.” Despite this absurd turn of events, people in Mansfield are “utterly silent.” Indeed, nobody calls Griffin to check in, and this disappoints him. “Did their silence condone the lynching?” he writes. “My family’s uneasiness approached terror now.”
After a dummy version of Griffin is hanged in Mansfield, he is forced to reckon with his own “terror” in a much more visceral, immediate way. Whereas before he and his family simply worried in an abstract way about the fact that racists were unhappy with him, now they come face to face with the threat of true violence. Worse, nobody in the surrounding community rallies support for Griffin, instead falling into “silence” and thereby tacitly “condon[ing]” this hateful behavior. Once again, then, readers see the importance of communication and community, since it’s clear in this moment that Griffin feels completely isolated because none of his fellow townspeople are brave enough to extend their support. And it is exactly this kind of frightful isolation that discourages nonracist whites from ever speaking out against bigotry.
Themes
Unity, Division, and Communication Theme Icon
Fear and Violence Theme Icon
Griffin decides to temporarily move his family to a friend’s house in Dallas. While driving down the road and passing his neighbors, he sees that they are giving him “the most violently hostile stare.” Then, at a red light, a stranger pulls up next to him. “He told me he’d heard that ‘they’ were planning to come and castrate me, that the date had been set,” Griffin writes. “He said this coldly, without emotion, neither threatening nor sympathetic, exactly the way one would say: ‘The weatherman’s promising rain for tomorrow.’”
Without many true allies in his community, Griffin is subject to fear and intimidation seemingly everywhere he goes. He even experiences “hostil[ity]” when driving by his neighbors. Worse, he is forced to face the terrifying possibility that an unidentified group of racists are going to physically harm him. Once again, then, readers see the ways in which racists discourage other white people from advocating for equality. 
Themes
Unity, Division, and Communication Theme Icon
Fear and Violence Theme Icon