Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Civil Rights Superhero

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Civil Rights Superhero

Article excerpt


From the view of his office across from the U.S.'s Capitol, it is hard to believe the man dressed in a suit with an official government lapel pin affixed to his coat was the same man who, as a college student, had been spat on, beaten and cursed by racist thugs, and arrested and jailed while crusading to end racial segregation in America.

Looking around his office, one wouldn't have to wonder if U.S. Congressman John Lewis' story is true. His office is filled with pictures documenting his college days as a civil rights activist and history books that recount his story. Now, one can hear Lewis' story straight from the man himself in his new non-fiction paperback graphic novel, March: Book One, the first part of a trilogy that vividly recounts, in action-packed comic strip format, this heroic and oft-times frightening chapter in American history.

The story recounts when Lewis and fellow classmates cut classes to risk their lives to participate in weeks of peaceful demonstrations protesting forced, legalized racial segregation in Nashville, as did students in several other cities across the South. Those students eventually attracted more student and adult supporters from around the country to their cause. They protested racial discrimination in interstate commercial transportation, public eating places, movie theaters, public restrooms and water facilities.

To address that dazed look most young people give when asked about the civil rights era, Lewis agreed to an idea suggested by Andrew Aydin, an avid comic book enthusiast and congressional staffer who grew up in Lewis' Georgia congres- sional district. Aydin suggested Lewis tell his story in comic book form to reach young people.

With the artwork of New York Times best-selling cartoonist Nate Powell, Lewis and Aydin hope telling the story of Lewis and the role of college students in the civil rights movement, via graphic illustrations with text, will be as appealing and inspiring to students and teachers of today as any fictional hero.

"I hope this book will inspire another generation to speak up, speak out and make some noise," Lewis says of his new offering, published by a small Georgia publisher that focuses on graphic illustration fiction novels aimed at young readers.

"This book is primarily for a new generation that didn't grow up and live through the '60s," Lewis says. "It says to them, 'There were some young people and some not so young people who were inspired to find a way to get in the way to make necessary trouble,"' Lewis adds, referring to the civil rights demonstrations. "We were simple, ordinary young people who saw a problem and decided to do something about it. The book is a reminder to today's young people [that] 'you too can do something."'

Since its release late last summer, March has reached The New York Times best-seller list, been reviewed by The Washington Post and drawn interest from history teachers and history groups around the country. Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wise., has placed March on its freshman reading list. Several other universities are considering doing the same.

"It's an inventive approach to telling an important story" says Deborah Heard, a former editor at The Washington Post. …

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