Black Like Me, 50 Years Later
Before Griffin could publish reports on his experiment in Sepia magazine, which had helped bankroll his travels, word leaked out. In interviews with Time and CBS, he explained what he’d been up to without trying to insult Southern whites. He was subjected to what he called “a dirty bath” of hatred. Returning to his Texas hometown, he was hanged in effigy; his parents received threats on his life. Any day now, Griffin heard, a mob would come to castrate him. He sent his wife and children to Mexico, and his parents sold their property and went into exile too. Griffin remained behind to pack his studio, wondering, “Is tonight the night the shotgun blasts through the window?” He soon followed his family to Mexico, where he turned his Sepia articles into Black Like Me.
In October 1961, Black Like Me was published, to wide acclaim. The New York Times hailed it as an “essential document of contemporary American life.” Newsweek called it “piercing and memorable.” Its success—translated into 14 languages, made into a movie, included in high-school curriculums—turned Griffin into a white spokesman for black America, a role he found awkward.