Wednesday, December 7, 2016

March (Books 1,2,& 3) by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

The third book in the graphic novel series March won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature in 2016, prompting a look at the trilogy. John Lewis’s extraordinary life growing up on a farm in Alabama is told in flashbacks, linking to the opening frames of Book 1 which depicts Lewis’ office in Cannon House Office Building in Washington, D.C. in January 2009.

Our perception of the fifty-odd years between Lewis’ childhood and Obama’s inauguration changes as we read, sometimes thinking fifty years sounds like a long time, and then realizing it’s only fifty years. How radically different living conditions were then, outside of cities. Blacks were still being blatantly discriminated against in every way, and the first civil rights legislation was just being proposed, passed, and enacted. This is the story of the resistance.

Lewis’ early work began with protesting segregation at lunch counters in Nashville, Tennessee, and then moving on to protesting segregated movie theaters, swimming pools, and universities. He wrote to organizers of the Freedom Ride, a planned action on Greyhound buses from D.C. to Louisiana. The Freedom Riders sought to challenge bus companies ignoring the recently-passed Supreme Court ruling on Boynton v Virginia which disallowed discrimination on buses or in bus stations. Lewis was allowed to participate in that dangerous but ultimately successful protest action before moving on to protesting lack of access to the vote for blacks in Mississippi.

The continued pressure of constant insistence on political rights for people of color across the southern states provoked violent push-back, but the disciplined, nonviolent tactics of Lewis’ group were surprisingly effective. It is valuable for us now to know how difficult it was for the nonviolent arm of civil rights groups to negotiate not only with the folks opposing their rights, but with their own colleagues. The stress of repeated beatings, killings, jailings, and threats was pushing attitudes toward a more robust form of protest. The authors describe differing voices, alternative views.

Lewis and the man whose delivery of nonviolent “social gospel” which influenced his own speeches, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., helped to hold back the swelling tide of violent resistance long enough to celebrate national recognition for their efforts culminating in the Civil Rights legislation of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Lewis had a front-row seat to all that was going on in the south and in Washington. He was head of Student NonViolent Coordinating Committee and as the youngest of the “Big Six,” representatives of the most impactful civil rights organizations, he met with Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and Attorney General Robert Kennedy. Lewis has a story to tell, and in this collaboration with two younger men, show us how momentous his contribution.

The whole trilogy is a focused and detailed look at the Civil Rights movement from the point of view of John Lewis for approximately a ten-year period 1955-1965. The encapsulation of a real life into a series of picture frames and dialog boxes is a difficult thing to pull off, but Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell do it beautifully, never talking down to the reader, nor reaching so high that the concepts can’t be grasped immediately, viscerally even. This is life and death stuff, and they leave a little of the horror in for us to contemplate, but the steady focus and preparation necessary to challenge political power comes across as well. As does the bravery of those who dared to resist.

Get this trilogy if you have teens. This is worthy.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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