John Howard Griffin (JHG) is a specialist for the hard life of Negroes in the south of the USA in the 1950’s. His idea is to change the color of his skin for being able to experience the discrimination on his own. He visits George Levitan, one of his old friends and owner of the magazine SEPIA. After discussing the idea, Levitan pays for all the expenses for changing JHG’s skin color and his trip through the south of the USA.
He flies to Louisiana to meet doctors which can finally help him to find the fitting medicine to change the color of his skin from white to black. The therapy for changing his skin color has started, he takes special pills and as to sit under a sun lamp. The doctor’s tests were all positive and there will be no problems for JHG to change from white to black and back to white.
The doctor likes the project.
Unfortunately the treatment does not work as rapidly as expected. After everything is said between JHG and the doctor, the doctor sends him with the words “Now you go into obliviton” away. Now JHG is on his own in New Orleans and stays in different hotels where he continues his treatment. During he finished it, he only steps out at night. Then he can finally start his observations which succeed immediately: Everybody thinks that he is a Negro, he makes hisfirst experiences with the segregation, like bathrooms only for white men.
He meets many other Negroes and talks to them about the discrimination. JHG goes from his hotel to the ghetto, were he tries how it is to get along with the people living there. On his way he finds out that he must NEVER take a look at white women. In the ghetto he meets Sterling, who becomes his friend. His work is to shine shoes of white men. JHG works together with him and gets to know how the white people are behaving when their shoes are being shone by a “boy”: For them, the Negro is nothing but a thing.