by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, & Nate Powell, 2015
The second book in the March series continues telling the story of Congressman John Lewis’s involvement in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. As it was in the first book, Lewis’s memories of those turbulent days are juxtaposed with the renewed hope brought to the nation on the day of President Obama’s inauguration. It is a difficult book to read, given our current political climate, but it is an important one from which readers of all ages could benefit.
This installment focuses heavily on the Freedom Rides. In 1960, the Supreme Court declared segregation on interstate buses and terminals to be unconstitutional – Lewis and fellow members of the movement decided to test this by riding buses from Washington, D.C. into the southern states. Events quickly turn violent, as a bus is bombed, passengers are severely beaten, and some riders are offered erroneous police protection, only to be dropped off in the middle of Klan country. I’ll admit that I did not know much about the Freedom Rides going into this. I cannot imagine getting on a bus or a train, not knowing whether I would walk off of it safely. Alive. We all like to think we possess that level of bravery, but do I? I don’t know.
In addition to exposing some of the (to me) lesser taught moments in civil rights history, there are some highly recognizable events contained in this volume. There is the imprisonment in Alabama that led to Martin Luther King Jr.’s letter from Birmingham jail. There is the inauguration of Governor George Wallace. There is the formation of the Big Six and the titular March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom that gave birth to Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Most of us know about these events as they’re given light each February, but the impact of these pages is far greater than that from the detached documentaries and meager pages in history books that our nation begrudgingly acknowledges once a year. The graphic memoir format lends an immediacy to these chaotic times, making their full weight difficult to ignore. Even more, it is impossible not to see the treatment of these riders, marchers, and protesters and not shudder at how this very thing is being repeated today. We must ask ourselves, how we can let this happen? And why?
When the third book in the series came out last year, I promptly went to Unabridged, my favorite local bookstore, to purchase all three – I knew that these were books I wanted to have in my collection and I was willing to pay full price. Alas, I did not read them right away and, since the election, I’ve shied away from picking them up. I knew how hopeless, how distraught they would make me feel. But the thing is, these are exactly the types of books we need to read now. We need to see the strength of those who demanded freedom, see both their fear and determination. We need to see through meager laws that would pay lip service to the cause while upholding inequality and injustice. We must remember the courage that came before us and we must honor and continue that today. We need to remember that once, we did overcome. We must not lose faith that we will overcome again.
[Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: read an all-ages comic.]