Dedicated: Feb. 27, 2011
Partners: Friends of Mansfield Public Library
Mansfield Public Library in Mansfield, Texas, was designated a Literary Landmark in recognition of the contributions of John Howard Griffin, author of Black Like Me. More than 300 attended the dedication.
Former First Lady Laura W. Bush was a special guest at the ceremony at the library. She called Griffin “one of the strongest white voices for civil rights.” Griffin darkened his skin in the fall of 1959 and lived as a black man for seven weeks while traveling through Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, and Alabama. The resulting book, Black Like Me, has never been out of print in the 50 years since it was published. It has been translated into 14 languages and sold more than 10 million copies. It still sells about 50,000 copies a year. Griffin (1920-1980) was the author of several other novels and a renowned photographer. He and his family lived on a farm in Mansfield during the time his social experiment took place.
Author and Griffin biographer Robert Bonazzi was the featured speaker at the dedication ceremony, relating how Griffin’s life was such an unusual one in many different ways. Bonazzi shared some of Griffin’s photographs, including his famous portrait of Thomas Merton and a portrait of his wife Elizabeth. All four of Griffin’s children were present to see the work of their father honored. During the event they also saw the work of another writer honored. Fifteen-year-old student Zach McCartney won the essay contest sponsored by the Friends of the Mansfield Public Library on “The Power of a Book.” Since Griffin’s book has been on the reading list in many classrooms, the Friends wanted to involve students and gain their interest in the Literary Landmark and what it stands for. A local business underwrote a $500 cash prize that was presented to Zach when he was announced the winner.
As part of the celebration of the Literary Landmark designation, the film An Uncommon Vision: The Life and Times of John Howard Griffin was shown to a capacity crowd in the historic Farr Best Theater in downtown Mansfield, just a few steps away from the corner where Griffin was hung in effigy after the publication of Black Like Me. Filmmaker Morgan Atkinson was in attendance to introduce his film and told the audience “When I think of John Howard Griffin, I think of courage, commitment and a love of knowledge. That is what the Friends of the Library are all about.”
The Friends of the Mansfield Public Library will oversee the Literary Landmark’s installation as a permanent fixture in the library building. “We’re really proud of this honor and the fact that the Mansfield community turned out to support the library” said Friends president Paula Highfill. “I think programs like this prove what a vital part of the community the library is. We’re bringing history to life, not just checking out books.”