Podcast Episode 80: ‘Black Like Me’: Race Realities Under Jim Crow

john howard griffin

In 1959, Texas journalist John Howard Griffin darkened his skin and lived for six weeks as a black man in the segregated South. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe his harrowing experience and what it taught him about the true state of race relations in America.

We’ll also ponder crescent moons, German submarines, and griffins in India and puzzle over why a man would be arrested for winning a prize at a county fair.

Sources for our feature on John Howard Griffin:

John Howard Griffin, Black Like Me, 1961.

Robert Bonazzi, Man in the Mirror: John Howard Griffin and the Story of Black Like Me, 2010.

Maurice Dolbier, “Blinding Disguise in South,” Miami News, Oct. 15, 1961.

Jerome Weeks, “‘Black Like Me’ Just One of Many Roles for John Howard Griffin,” Dallas Morning News, Sept. 19, 1997.

H.W. Quick, “He Finds Bias Blighting North, South,” Milwaukee Sentinel, Jan. 16, 1964.

Karen De Witt, “Oppressor Shown What Being Oppressed Is Like,” Ottawa Citizen, Nov. 1, 1977.

Ray Sprigle, In the Land of Jim Crow, 1949.

Lucile Torkelson, “Writer Crosses the Race Barrier,” Milwaukee Sentinel, Oct. 29, 1969.

Research questions:

Here’s the image of the star and crescent:


And here are the sources I’ve found that describe the German submarine rescue:

Wolfgang Frank, The Sea Wolves, 1955.

Arch Whitehouse, Subs and Submariners, 1961.

Jacques Yves Cousteau, Captain Cousteau’s Underwater Treasury, 1959.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Lawrence Miller.

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Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

Short Work


F.A. Pottle’s index to the 1950 Edinburgh University Press edition of James Boswell’s London Journal condenses an entire romantic relationship into one paragraph:

Lewis, Mrs (Louisa), actress. JB to call Louisa in journal; receives JB; JB visits; JB’s increased feeling for; JB discusses love with; JB anticipates delight with; JB lends two guineas to; disregards opinion of world; discusses religion with JB; JB entreats to be kind; uneasiness of discourages JB; JB declares passion for; promises to make JB blessed; … makes assignation with JB; consummation with JB interrupted; … JB likes better and better; JB’s felicity delayed; … JB afraid of a rival; JB feels coolness for; … JB incredulous at infection from; JB enraged at perfidy of; … JB asks for his two guineas back …

Simple Enough

Anton Reicha’s piano fugue number 18 has an uninspired subject — it’s just the same note repeated 34 times:

Or maybe that is inspired?

Puzzling Lines

In his 1943 book The Life of Johnny Reb, Emory University historian Bell Wiley collects misspellings found in the letters of Confederate soldiers. Can you decipher these words?

  1. agetent
  2. bregad
  3. cerce
  4. crawsed
  5. furteege
  6. orpital
  7. perperce
  8. porchun
  9. regislatury
  10. ridgement

Bonus: What does A brim ham lillkern mean?

Click for answers …



Louisa May Alcott’s father suffered a stroke in 1888, and she arrived at his bedside on March 2, just two days before he died.

She said, “Father, here is your Louy, what are you thinking as you lie here so happily?”

He said, “I am going up. Come with me.

She said, “Oh, I wish I could.”

She did: She died four days later, on March 6.

The Moralist

la rochefoucauld

More maxims of La Rochefoucauld:

  • “We should often be ashamed of our best Actions, if the world saw all their Motives.”
  • “If we had no Faults ourselves, we should not take such Pleasure in observing those of others.”
  • “The Reason we are so angry with such as trick us is, because they think they have more Wit than we.”
  • “There are Heroes in Ill, as well as in Good.”
  • “There are People who are disagreeable with great Merit; and others who with great Faults are agreeable.”
  • “We easily forget Crimes that are known to none but ourselves.”
  • “To judge of Love by most of its Effects, one would think it more like Hatred than Kindness.”
  • “Our Merit procures us the Esteem of Men of Sense, and our Fortune that of the Public.”
  • “Narrowness of Mind is the Cause of Obstinacy; and we don’t easily believe beyond what we see.”
  • “Quarrels would not last long if the Fault was but on one Side.”
  • “We are not able to act up to our Reason.”
  • “Men are oftener treacherous through Weakness than Design.”
  • “Our Self-love bears with less Patience the Condemnation of our Tastes, than of our Opinions.”
  • “We are almost always tired with the Company of those whom we ought not to be tired of.”
  • “The Mind, thro’ Laziness and Constancy, fixes on what is easy or agreeable to it. This Habit bounds our Knowledge; and no Man has ever given himself the trouble to extend and carry his Genius as far as it was capable of going.”

And “Few People are well-acquainted with Death. ‘Tis generally submitted to thro’ Stupidity and Custom, not Resolution; and most Men die merely because they can’t help it.”

Plain Value


Euclid Geometer
Pained by the asking of
“What is the use

Studying the doctrines so
Answered acutely, “Oh,
Don’t be obtuse!”

— Anthony Harrington

Last Words


A letter from Arthur Conan Doyle to Light, April 5, 1930:

SIR, — It might interest your readers to know that some weeks ago I had a communication which professed to come from Thomas Hardy. It came through an amateur Medium from whom I had only once before had a message, which was most veridical. Therefore, I was inclined to take Hardy’s message seriously, the more so as intrinsically it was worthy of him. I should place it on the same level of internal evidence as the Oscar Wilde and the Jack London scripts. Hardy gave a posthumous review of his own work, some aspects of which he now desired to revise and modify. The level of his criticism was a very high and just one. He then, as a sign of identity, sent a poem, which seems to me to be a remarkable one. It describes evening in a Dorsetshire village. Without quoting it all I will give here the second verse which runs thus:

Full well we know the shadow o’er the green,
When Westering sun reclines behind the trees,
The little hours of evening, when the scene
Is faintly fashioned, fading by degrees.

The third and fourth lines are in my opinion exquisite. I do not know if they were memories of something written in life. I should be glad to know if anyone recognises them.

Arthur Conan Doyle

In a Word


adj. endangered, exposed to peril

Thirsty Work


As the series developed, readers came to expect an ever more extensive drinks menu. In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, for example, the eleventh book, Bond downs no less than forty-six drinks, the widest variety in any single book. According to one Bondologist, these include: unspecified quantities of Pouilly-Fuissé white wine, Taittinger champagne, Mouton Rothschild ’53 claret, calvados, Krug champagne, three bourbons with water, four vodka and tonics, two double brandy and ginger ales, two whisky and sodas, three double vodka martinis, two double bourbons on the rocks, at least one glass of neat whisky, a flask of Enzian schnapps, Marsala wine, the better part of a bottle of fiery Algerian wine (served by M), two more Scotch whiskies, half a pint of I.W. Harper bourbon, a Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whisky with water, on the rocks, a bottle of Riquewihr wine, four steins of Franziskaner beer, and a double Steinhäger gin. The same indefatigable researcher has found that although vodka martini has now become Bond’s signature drink, he only drinks nineteen of them in the books, compared to thirty-seven bourbons, twenty-one Scotches and a remarkable thirty-five sakes (entirely the result of his massive consumption of that particular drink in You Only Live Twice).

— Ben MacIntyre, For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming and James Bond, 2008

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