The Missing Day
The Missing Day
John Howard Griffin and the Specter of Joseph Franklin
This chapter considers the iconic, cross-racial impersonator, John Howard Griffin, author of the bestselling Black Like Me (1961). This chapter uses archival research to reveal how Griffin prepared for his temporary (mis)adventures in Southern blackness, first published in a six-part series in the now defunct, black periodical, Sepia. Before those articles, Griffin wrote about his experiment in his personal journals. Close-reading those journals uncovered Griffin’s secret black persona, “Joseph Franklin.” Written in an unpublished Halloween journal entry, known in this book as the “missing day, this chapter centers that entry.” It reads Griffin’s later success in cross-racial empathy through the spectral persona of Joseph, an imagined identity on which Griffin projected anxieties about black masculinity, and his dread about his impending temporary blackness. This chapter details how the haunting absence of Joseph and the missing October 31, 1959, journal entry structure each iteration of Griffin’s empathetic racial impersonation—from his journals and articles for Sepia to the literary and film versions of Black Like Me. By tracing this strategic avoidance, Griffin’s archive uncovers the imagined spectre of black masculinity shaping the most iconic example of empathetic racial impersonation in this genealogy.
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