When he decides to take a short stroll in the streets of New Orleans, a man follows him yelling “Ain’t no way you can get away from me, Mr. Shithead. You might as well stop there” (Griffin51). He now realizes the danger of dark streets in New Orleans as a Negro. When he approaches the nearby church, the bells ring. “The word ‘nigger’ picked up the bell’s resonances and repeated itself again and again in my brain. Hey, nigger, you can’t go in there. Hey nigger, you can’t drink here. We don’t serve niggers. And then the boy’s words: Mr. No-hair, Baldy, Shithead. (Would it have happened if I were white?)” (Griffin53).Following experiences in New Orleans, John Griffin chooses to travel to Mississippi and Alabama, which rumors say to be even worse for blacks than New Orleans. After multiple legal issues, Griffin embarks on a long trip through Alabama and Mississippi to further investigate racial discrimination. An effigy of Griffin is publicly displayed in New Orleans soon after his return. Half white and half black, the object stands waiting to meet flames. John Griffin finally decides to stop taking his skin pigmentation medication to return to a white man’s body.
John Howard Griffin’s skillfully developed characters give this novel its name.