Required reading in high schools and colleges throughout America in the 1970s and 80s often included a book titled Black Like Me. However, before John Howard Griffin’s racial experiment there was another man and another journey. His name was Ray Sprigle. He, like Griffin, was a journalist; a white man who traveled into the South disguised as black. He wrote a book titled In the Land of Jim Crow, but he was a northerner from Pittsburgh. Based on his experiences, he wrote a series of articles for the Post-Gazette. Although they generated conversation and debate, it was at a time in history not quite ready for action.
During that period, his articles were accepted as credible accounts and deemed important. Society, whether in the North or South, would not likely have received the words of a black man in the same way. Racial inequality and prejudice existed everywhere. Many who have been critical of his work noted that he highlighted the wrongs of the South while ignoring the segregation in his own back yard; however, they recognized that he was willing to begin the dialog.
Traveling throughout the South he was careful to obey the rules and be good. As a result, he did not experience, nor did his reporting highlight the real dangers that existed. He wanted to see inside the lives of the people. He was welcomed into their homes and churches. He learned about the difficulty of getting an education, the trials of being a sharecropper, and the realities of a segregated society. Although his view was limited, it began to paint a picture of the real world in which Addie and her family lived and provide a background for Silent Ties.
For more about Ray Sprigle and his work please visit “Not your typical Book Club!” on this website to read “Ray Sprigle: I Was a Negro in the South for 30 Days.”
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Santayana