What Happened When A White Man “Became” Black In Mid-20th Century America

In an attempt to understand a non-white life in America, John Griffin dyed his skin “black” and set off to the South. His experience, recounted in
Black Like Me was, as you might expect, painful.

John Griffin

YouTubeJohn Griffin as a “black” man.

In November 1959, John Griffin set out on one of the most challenging experiences of his life. Previously, the 39-year-old had served in the U.S. military, where shrapnel caused him to go temporarily blind. But this year, Griffin would do something even more trying: He would live for six weeks as a black man in the American South.

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14 Places That Probably Stole America’s Flag — And The One America Stole From

Betsy Ross didn’t design the American flag. Neither did George Washington, Ben Franklin, or anyone else you’ve ever heard of (unless you’ve heard of Francis Hopkinson).

Nor was the flag’s design handed down by the gods to some mythical steward in a moment of dramatic inspiration.

It was instead crafted by a bureaucrat from New Jersey who requested payment for its creation in the amount of a quarter cask of wine (and never received it) — and who stole its design from a certain institution of Britain, the very nation America was rebelling against.

And since then, fittingly, the design of the American flag has been stolen by other nations and territories many times over.

Here’s who most likely stole from America and who America stole from in the first place:

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Provisional Flag of the Republic of the United States of Brazil (1889)

Brazil Flag

On November 15, 1889, the Brazilian monarchy that had ruled the country since its independence from Portugal in 1822, was overthrown in a military coup.

Then, over the initial five days of the First Brazilian Republic, the flag above was flown.

Ruy Barbosa, one of the civilian leaders of the revolution, designed the flag as an homage to that of the U.S. However, recognizing that this similarity was too great, acting Brazilian president Marshal Deodoro da Fonseca vetoed the design and the flag was taken down.

Brittany (region in the northwest of France)

Brittany Flag

Called Gwenn ha Du ("black and white" in the local Breton language), this flag is flown across the region of Brittany.

Designed in 1923 by Breton nationalist Morvan Marchal, the flag was originally a symbol of Brittany's desire to have self-rule apart from France, but has now largely lost its separatist connotations.

Morvan's design was based on the U.S. flag as well as the Greece flag because he believed those two nations to be the world's greatest symbols of liberty and democracy.

Bikini Atoll

Bikini Atoll Flag

Consisting of just 3.4 square miles of land spread out over 23 tiny islands, the Bikini Atoll is itself a member of the Marshall Islands, a small, remote archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, about 2,000 miles from any country you'd recognize (like Papua New Guinea).

This remoteness made Bikini Atoll a perfect choice for U.S. nuclear testing during the Cold War. Between 1946 and 1958, the U.S. detonated 23 nuclear weapons there.

Residents were relocated, but lied to about when they could return and the chances that, despite relocation, they still might be harmed by radioactive fallout. Many starved on the smaller, less habitable islands to which they were moved, and even today, recent studies show that Bikini Atoll is still too dangerous for humans.

Thus, Bikini Atoll adopted the flag above in 1987 to symbolize the debt owed to the nation by the U.S.

The white stars represent Bikini's 23 islands. The upper three black stars represent the three islands that were especially disfigured during a 1954 nuclear test. The lower two black stars represent the islands to which residents were relocated. And the text recalls what Bikini leader Juga said to U.S. Commodore Ben Wyatt when the latter asked the former to give up his island: "Everything is in the hands of God."


Chile Flag

Chile's flag, La Estrella Solitaria (The Lone Star), adopted in 1817 as Chile was about to break away from Spain and become an independent republic, has no official record of being inspired by the American flag. However, the similarities -- red and white stripes along with a blue canton (upper, inner corner) featuring a white star -- are certainly obvious.

Nevertheless, the similarities between the Chilean flag and the American flag are not discussed nearly as much as the similarities between the Chilean flag and the flag of one of America's states...


Texas Flag

Adopted in 1839 (22 years after Chile adopted their flag), the exact origins of Texas' flag aren't entirely known, although some credit politician Dr. Charles B. Stewart with drawing the initial design (including white for loyalty, blue for purity, and red for bravery, with a lone star symbolizing the state's newfound independence from Mexico).

But because the flag's origin story isn't perfectly clear, we can't be certain whether or not its creators had seen Chile's remarkably similar design. However, we can be sure that the Texas flag's designers knew the American flag and -- given the fact that previous drafts of Texas' flag were even more similar to the American flag -- we can be quite sure that the Stars and Stripes was a major source of inspiration.

The Republic of Florida (1861)

Florida Flag

On January 10, 1861, Florida joined several other southern states in seceding from the Union. However, before helping to found the Confederate States of America in February, Florida spent a month as the independent Republic of Florida.

During that brief window, Florida flew the flag above. While its design obviously (and perhaps, confusingly, given that Florida had just seceded from the Union) owes a strong debt to the American flag, it's also heavily inspired by the "Bonnie Blue Flag".

That flag was an early, unofficial banner of the seceding states and was itself, fittingly, inspired by the flag of 1810's short-lived Republic of West Florida (set up by the region's British settlers in defiance of the Spanish ones).

And to muddy the waters even more, there's one other flag that, more than any of these others, is virtually identical to this short-lived Florida banner...


Liberia Flag

Adopted in 1847, fourteen years before the virtually identical Florida flag, the flag of Liberia is almost certainly more similar to the American flag than any other current flag of a full-fledged country (as opposed to region or state, and so on).

This is, of course, no coincidence, as the west African nation of Liberia was settled in 1822 specifically as a haven for freed and free-born African-American and Afro-Caribbean slaves.

The country modeled its constitution and flag upon America's and still stands as Africa's first and oldest republic.


Togo Flag

Just east of Liberia lies Togo, whose flag of course resembles Liberia's and America's. While Togo's flag uses the traditional pan-African colors (and not red, white, and blue), its structural design, like Liberia's and America's, employs horizontal stripes and a starred canton.

Designed by acclaimed artist Paul Ahyi and adopted in 1960, the flag features red symbolizing the blood spilled for independence, green representing the nation's forest and agriculture, and yellow representing the land's natural resources.

Yucatán (Mexico)

Yucatan Flag

Initially adopted when Yucatán became a republic independent of the Mexican federation in 1841, the flag still flies throughout the region (which has long since rejoined Mexico as one of its states). Today, the flag is used to exhibit pride in local culture and even to sometimes protest local displeasure with the federal government.

The flag's design sports horizontal red and white stripes as well as a starred canton, just like America's. In this case, those stars represent the five departments into which the region was divided around the time it declared independence.

El Salvador (1875-1912)

El Salvador Flag

Although the Central American nation's current flag is now much different, El Salvador's flags used between 1865 and 1912 (varying only in the number of stars, and just one of which is shown above) was clearly remarkably similar to America's.

As was the case with the American design, El Salvador's stars represented the number of provinces. And very much unlike the American design, El Salvador's blue stripes represented the importance of indigo dyes, one of the country's chief exports.


Cuba Flag

Designed by Narciso Lopez -- a Venezuelan soldier and revolutionary who fought for Cuban independence from Spain -- in 1849, and adopted when Cuba finally did become independent in 1902, the origins of Cuba's flag are sometimes disputed.

That said, there is certainly a case to be made (aside from the obvious aesthetic similarities) that Lopez had America's flag in mind when he designed Cuba's.

Lopez dreamed up the flag while living in his adopted U.S. home of New York City. His expedition into Cuba the following year (1850), some historians argue, was not so much a simple push for independence but an attempt to annex Cuba for the U.S., with backing from the southern states.

In fact, some claim that the flag's lone star was there to represent one more star that would hopefully be added to the ones on the American flag when Cuba became a U.S. state.

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico Flag

Remarkably similar to the Cuban flag, and belonging to a territory that actually is part of the United States, is the flag of Puerto Rico.

And like the Cuban flag, which inspired it, the Puerto Rican flag was created by revolutionaries living in New York City. And although Puerto Rico is of course now a U.S. commonwealth, there is no documented story of its flag representing a conscious plan to have the island made part of the U.S. (as there was with Lopez's Cuban flag).

Nevertheless, once again, the aesthetic similarities between the Puerto Rican flag -- itself even closer to the American flag than the Cuban one is -- and the American flag speak for themselves.

First flag of the Confederate States of America (1861-1863)

Confederate Flag

The Confederate Flag doesn't look the way you think it does. The one you're picturing (a blue X containing white stars over a red background), although widely used as "the Confederate Flag" today is actually the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. It was a Confederate flag, to be sure, but not the Confederate Flag.

And the Confederate Flag itself actually had three designs. The first one (above), used between 1861 and 1863, was of course very similar to the American flag, particularly the 13-star Colonial version.

Now, on the one hand, it's perhaps unfair to lump the Confederate Flag in with the flags of Liberia, Togo, and so on. After all, the Confederate states were part of the U.S. and were seeking to establish a kind of alternate U.S.

But, at the same time, it is rather surprising that a group so bitterly opposed to the U.S. would create a flag so similar to their enemy's. In fact, the flag above quickly drew criticism from Confederates, and even caused battlefield confusion because of its similarity to the American flag, and was replaced by a far more different flag in 1863.


Malaysia Flag

The American flag is of course known as the "Stars and Stripes" or "Old Glory." So, it's only fitting that the Malaysian flag -- along with Liberia's, perhaps the one most similar to the American -- is called "Stripes of Glory."

And like the American flag, the Malaysian flag's stripes represent its member states (plus one for the federal government). Very much unlike the American flag, the Malaysian flag's crescent represents Islam (the country's official religion) with a star also in yellow, the royal color of Malaysia's rulers.

The British East India Company (1707-1801)

Flag British East India Company

Finally, the flag from which the United States took its design: that of the British East India Company.

When the Declaration of Independence was being signed, the first battles of the Revolutionary War were being fought, and the United States was becoming a country, its flag was not of course not the one you know today, nor even a variant simply with less stars.

Instead the American flag circa 1776, the first American flag, was called the Continental Colors and it was virtually identical to the British East India Company flag seen above (the only difference being a more square-shaped canton).

The British East India Company (fittingly, the major British trading company operating in East India), flew a flag consisting of between nine and 15 red and white alternating horizontal stripes and a canton of the British Union Jack. And even though the Americans were rebelling against the British, they lifted that flag design wholesale.

A year later, the Flag Act of 1777 simply replaced the Union Jack portion with stars representing the 13 colonies and settled on 13 as the number of stripes -- and the rest is history.

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Summer Of 1977 In New York City

On the evening of July 13, 1977, two lightning strikes just north of New York City led to a massive blackout that plunged the city into darkness.

The lights went out, elevators stalled, and subways ground to a halt. Looting and arson broke out, over a thousand fires were reported, and more than 1,600 stores were damaged or ransacked. The Mets-Cubs game at Shea Stadium ended in the bottom of the sixth inning. The light-filled city became a black pit.

Elsewhere in New York’s summer of 1977, a sweltering heat wave, financial downturn, rising poverty and inequality levels, paranoia about the Son of Sam murders, and the shining lights of Studio 54 took hold of the city.

Likewise, as fires burned down much of the Bronx, hip hop began to rise from the ashes. In fact, the looting of music stores during the blackout enabled people who couldn’t afford turntables and mixers to gather the equipment they needed to become DJs.

Check out some compelling photos from that uneasy summer in New York City:

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Avenue C

Camilo J. Vergara/ Library of Congress Young boys play in a fire hydrant in the Lower East Side's Avenue C.

New York 1977

Wikimedia Commons45th Street in Midtown.

Woman Sitting Street Summer

Camilo J. Vergara/ Library of Congress A woman sits along the streets.

Forth Of July

Allan Tannenbaum/Getty ImagesResidents of Brooklyn's Bushwick neighborhood sit in folding chairs, July 21, 1977.

Trash Can Fire Harlem

National Archives and Records AdministrationA child passes a blazing can in Harlem.

George Willig World Trade Center

Carmine Donofrio/NY Daily News Archive/Getty ImagesGeorge "Human Fly" Willig climbing the South Tower of the World Trade Center.

Reggie Jackson

NY Daily News Archive/Getty ImagesYankees manager Billy Martin, and the team's strutting superstar, Reggie Jackson, nearly come to blows.

Dancing Studio 54

Waring Abbott/Getty ImagesA group dancing at Studio 54.

Group Singing Studio 54

Richard Corkery/NY Daily News Archive/ Getty ImagesStevie Wonder (at piano) jams with Stephen Stills (with drum), Stephanie Mills, and Teddy Pendergrass (behind Wonder) for New York secretary Mary Ann Cummings and 300 guests on her birthday at Studio 54.

Curtis Mayfield

Richard E. Aaron/RedfernsCurtis Mayfield poses inside Studio 54.

New York Daily News Front Cover

NY Daily NewsFront page of the Daily News following the blackout.


Allan Tannenbaum/Getty ImagesAt dawn on July 14, the Manhattan skyline shows no lights due to the blackout.

Walk Bridge

Underwood Archives/Getty ImagesNew Yorkers jam the Brooklyn Bridge on their way home after the blackout shut down the subway system.

NYC Blackout

Robert R. McElroy/Getty ImagesIn Brooklyn, pedestrians stand on a street corner in the wake of the blackout.

No Light But Liquor

Bryan Alpert/Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesIn the midst of the blackout, a restaurant owner writes a sign to advise customers that there is no food or lights inside, but lots of liquor.

NYC Blackout brooklyn

Robert R. McElroy/Getty ImagesPolice officers and passersby stand in front of a damaged storefront, looted in the wake of the New York City blackout.


NY Daily News Archive/Getty ImagesCops contain suspected looters at Grand Concourse and Fordham Road in the Bronx during blackout.

fire bronx blackout

Robert R. McElroy/Getty ImagesAerial view of a building burning following the blackout in Brooklyn.


Looters young and old leave an A&P supermarket at Ogden Avenue and 166th Street in the Bronx through a broken window. Authorities arrested thousands of looters in at least three boroughs of the city.

Son Of Sam

Fred R. Conrad/New York Times Co./Getty ImagesSerial killer David "Son of Sam" Berkowitz being taken into police custody on August 11, 1977.


In the summer of 1977, the NYPD discovered a handwritten letter near the bodies of Esau and Suriani, addressed to NYPD Captain Joseph Borrelli. With this letter, Berkowitz revealed the name "Son of Sam" for the first time.

The press had previously dubbed him "the .44 Caliber Killer" because of his signature weapon. The letter was initially withheld from public view, but some of its contents leaked to the press, and the name "Son of Sam" rapidly eclipsed the old name.

Son Of Sam

Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesMugshot of "Son of Sam."

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