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Black for a DayWhite Fantasies of Race and Empathy$
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Alisha Gaines

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9781469632834

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469632834.001.0001

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A Second hand Kind of Terror

A Second hand Kind of Terror

Grace Halsell and the Ironies of Empathy

(p.83) Chapter Three A Second hand Kind of Terror
Black for a Day

Alisha Gaines

University of North Carolina Press

Chapter Three considers the political, racial, and social crises plaguing the late 1960s by reading Soul Sister, Grace Halsell’s 1969 memoir. A freelance journalist and a White House staff writer for the Lyndon B. Johnson administration, Halsell was also a protégé of John Howard Griffin, who famously passed for black in 1959. While previous scholarship on Griffin has wrestled with his place as an enduring icon of racial empathy, this chapter details Griffin’s previously unknown mentorship of Halsell. Bolstered by extensive archival research, this chapter demonstrates how Halsell prepared for her performance of black womanhood by relying exclusively on Griffin’s instruction without any advice from black women. The chapter also situates Halsell’s blackness within important discussions around the contentious relationship between racial equality and 2nd wave feminism. Ultimately, Halsell’s six-months as a black woman in Harlem and Mississippi during the burgeoning black power movement ironically reveals grotesque assumptions about black sexuality, authenticity, and class.

Keywords:   black womanhood, Grace Halsell, Soul Sister, John Howard Griffin, racial impersonation

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