Sunday Inspiration: Black Like Me

Martin Luther King memorial in Washington.Have you read the book, Black Like Me?

A best seller in the 60s, it was a big influence in many lives, including my own, for becoming aware of the racism in our society.

Black Like Me was written in 1961 by John Howard Griffin, who artificially changed his skin color from white to black and then traveled through the south to see what it was like for a black person living in that part of the world. As you can imagine, he was shocked by the deep prejudice and inequality experienced by the typical person of color. He wrote:

“Nothing can describe the withering horror of this. You feel lost, sick at heart before such unmasked hatred, not so much because it threatens you as because it shows humans in such an inhuman light. You see a kind of insanity, something so obscene the very obscenity of it (rather than its threat) terrifies you.”

Racism exists everywhere, certainly not just the American South. Most of all it exists in the unexamined heart. Isn’t this the biggest challenge of our lives, a spiritual challenge, to be able to imagine ourselves in someone else’s skin, to experience, as best we can, what they experience? Novelists do this routinely, and our observations range from the fantastic to the realistic. For each of us imagination can be the first and biggest step in becoming compassionate, loving, human beings.

Books can open the door to our souls and help us connect to others, so that we can discover they are as close as our reflection in the mirror. Films can do that as well, and I’m  looking forward to seeing “Selma,” one of the movies just nominated for an Academy Award.

Martin Luther King helped open my eyes to the commonality of all people, and tomorrow I will celebrate his life by remembering his great acts of courage and compassion and re-dedicating myself to live out his message that “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”

Happy Martin Luther King Day!


  1. Kathryn@Book Date on January 18, 2015 at 1:28 am

    I just need to say I read Black Like Me when I was young, found it on our bookshelf and home and I always read anything I could find. So probably read it when I was thirteen or so and I remember being totally amazed and blown away by it. It sure opened up my eyes and heart.

    • Emilie Richards on January 18, 2015 at 7:34 am

      I wonder how many of us realize how completely a book can change us? I forget sometimes and it’s nice to remember.

  2. Terry Guerra on January 18, 2015 at 8:31 am

    I, too, cannot wait to see “Selma” – and am calling the local bookstore up the street to see if they have the book “Black Like Me”. I cannot imagine what it must have been like in the south; the older I get the more I realize how truly wonderful my childhood was.

  3. Karen Burshnick on January 18, 2015 at 8:32 am

    Wonderful tribute! You speak and write from the heart. In this day and age, it is comforting.

  4. Lorraine Thacker on January 18, 2015 at 2:21 pm

    I too read Black Like Me in the ’60s and it made such a long lasting impression on me. My parents raised us as color blind, thank goodness. Not to say they didn’t have their faults or that we didn’t, but at least I didn’t ever have to overcome that one. There are so many ways to walk in another persons shoes, but I have to say I always admired John Howard Griffin for his courage. Thank you for reminding me.

  5. Lynn Ross on January 23, 2015 at 10:08 pm

    This is a wonderful article, Emilie! I remember my own moment of transformation in the 1960’s serving as secretary for an inner-city Methodist Church In Memphis, TN. I simply could not understand what all the fuss was about during the Civil Rights demonstrations. The wonderful minister that I worked for was able to explain it all to me in a way that helped me to understand the plight of the Black people. After much soul searching, I realized how horribly bigoted I had been all my life. It was a humbling experience. While I never marched or carried a banner, I like to think I may have helped by telling my personal story in many Northern parlors.

Leave a Comment