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John Howard Griffin
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    (June 16, 1920-September 9, 1980)
    Born in Dallas, Texas
    Journalist, author and photographer
    Best known for darkening his skin, traveling through the deep South and writing about the experience in 'Black Like Me' (1961)
    Other books include 'Nuni' (1956), 'Scattered Shadows: A Memoir of Blindness and Vision' (1962), 'Twelve Photographic Portraits' (1973), Jacques Maritain: Homage in Words and Pictures' (1974) and 'Follow the Ecstasy: The Hermitage Years of Thomas Merton' (published posthumously, 1983)
    He admitted that when attended boarding school in France as a teen, he was initially appalled to see black and white people dining together in cafes.
    He had to shave off his hair to pass as black.
    He cut back lecturing about 'Black Like Me,' saying it was 'absurd for a white man to presume to speak for black people when they have superlative voices of their own.'
    He was falsely rumored to have died from skin cancer caused by his sitting under a UV lamp for 15 hours a day when he was darkening his skin for 'Black Like Me.' (He actually died of complication from diabetes.)
    He worked with the French resistance during World War II and helped smuggle Jewish children to safety.
    After learning his name was on a Gestapo 'hit list,' he escaped from France, returned to the US, and served with the US Army Air Corps in the South Pacific.
    After being struck by shrapnel, his vision deteriorated until he went blind in 1946.
    After his vision inexplicably returned (1957), he said after seeing his wife and children for the first time, 'They are more beautiful than I ever expected. I am astonished, stunned and thankful.'
    He noted that when he traveled as a black man, 'An important part of my daily life was spent searching for the basic things that all whites take for granted: a place to eat, or somewhere to find a drink of water, a rest room, somewhere to wash my hands.'
    Washington University scholar Gerald Early noted, ''Black Like Me' disabused the idea that minorities were acting out of paranoia.'
    After the publication of 'Black Like Me,' his neighbors hanged him in effigy and he and his family fled to Mexico.
    He was beaten and left for dead by the KKK (1964).
    Studs Terkel wrote, 'Griffin was one of the most remarkable people I have ever encountered. He was one of those guys that comes along once or twice in a century and lifts the hearts of the rest of us.'

Credit: C. Fishel

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