According to John Howard Griffin, a white man can understand the truth only by becoming a Negro. Even though the two races coexisted across the South, their communication had stopped. The only way he could envision bridging the racial divide was to become a Negro.
George Levitan, the owner of Sepia, stated that the idea is crazy: “You’ll get yourself killed fooling around down there” (Griffin 13). Nevertheless, Levitan could not hide his enthusiasm: “But you know – it is a great idea. I can see right now you’re going through with it, so what can I do to help?” (Griffin 13). Additionally, Levitan assured that he could send Sepia some articles and let Griffin use chapters from his planned book. Levitan agreed but advised Griffin to consult with Sepia’s editorial director, who progressed from a secretarial job to become one of the country’s outstanding editors. Mrs. Adelle Jackson, Sepia’s editorial director, considered the idea impossible. “You don’t know what you’d be getting into, John,” she emphasized (Griffin 13). She believed that after Griffin’s book was released, hate groups would go to any extent to discredit him and that many good whites would be scared to offer courtesy in public.
Mr. Griffin opted not to modify his name or identity but rather to change his pigmentation and let others draw their conclusions. He would always tell the truth when questioned about who he was or what he was doing.
Griffin returned to the same shoeshine station in the French Quarter, where he had met Sterling Williams as a white man. Griffin was wearing shoes with a unique cut, and Williams had cleaned them several times previously. Griffin questioned whether there was anything familiar about these shoes after Williams had almost finished shining them. Sterling Williams responded that he had been cleaning similar shoes for a white man, and Griffin then exposed the truth and explained his transformation. Later, Griffin offered his assistance, but Williams stated that the stand belonged to his partner and that they needed to obtain his permission. Griffin was likewise overdressed for a shine boy, according to Williams.
Griffin, John Howard. Black Like Me. Wings Press, 2006.