by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, & Nate Powell, 2013
[The timing of this post is entirely coincidental. I read March months ago and I tend to have a few posts lined up in advance, but this couldn’t have arrived on a more poignant day. What I momentarily found unbelievable is all too believable to me now. I urge you to go to your library, your local bookstore, your local comic store, and pick up this series. We have so much to learn from our past. We have so much to consider for our future.]
March: Book One is the first in a trilogy of graphic novels about Congressman John Lewis’s life. An icon of the civil rights movement – participating in lunch counter sit-ins, speaking alongside Martin Luther King, Jr., receiving the Medal of Freedom from President Obama – Congressman Lewis is an aptly revered figure in recent history. This book is a testament not only to his life’s achievements, but also to the power of the graphic novel form.
There is such beautiful intertwining of two radically different periods in history here, that of the civil rights movement and that of President Obama’s 2009 inauguration. The story is told in flashbacks, effectively switching between the two points in time. As Lewis readies himself to attend the inauguration he is interrupted by a woman and her two young sons who have made the trip for the same purpose. The woman wants her boys to see the Congressman’s office so they can know “how far we’ve come.” This spurs Lewis to recount his childhood caring for chickens, becoming a preacher at 16, and taking a road trip with his uncle, fraught with the danger of being black men traveling through the southern US.
Lewis became acquainted with Dr. King when he was in college. After writing to Dr. King and announcing his intentions to transfer to an all-white school, the two meet and King details the risks Lewis is assuming in his actions, making it known that his family will suffer in kind. Though Lewis’s parents do not permit him to follow through, he learns far more staying in Nashville where he becomes involved with a non-violent protest group. If you are familiar with history, you can imagine the sorts of events that transpired next. If you are not, I won’t spoil it as Lewis and his co-authors tell the story, with their stark black and white images, much more compellingly than I ever could here.
When I read about this part of our history, I wonder how people could treat others so callously, cause harm so readily because of a difference in skin color. I think, I have the luxury of finding it nearly unbelievable that these events transpired and that they were a regular occurrence. And then I remember, I can believe it. For Trayvon Martin, I believe it. For Oscar Grant, I believe it. For Eric Gardner, for Sandra Bland, for all those whose names I do not know because their deaths did not warrant front page news, I believe it. For the fact that we are still trying to convince our nation that Black Lives Matter, I believe it. I may not want to believe it, but I do.
In March we are reminded of how firmly we are connected to that history. The struggle that Congressman Lewis endured is not over – today is merely a continuation.
[Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: read a non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years, read the first book in a series by a person of color, read a book about politics]