For Younger Readers, 'March' Revisits the Civil Rights Era ; Graphic Novel Trilogy Explores the Movement's Genesis and Inspiration

By Gustines, George Gene | International New York Times, August 4, 2016 | Go to article overview

For Younger Readers, 'March' Revisits the Civil Rights Era ; Graphic Novel Trilogy Explores the Movement's Genesis and Inspiration


Gustines, George Gene, International New York Times


The comic book trilogy tells the story of the civil rights movement and its nonviolent philosophy.

The third book of "March," United States Representative John Lewis's graphic novel trilogy about the civil rights movement, came out on Tuesday. But Mr. Lewis, Democrat of Georgia, said he hoped that his firsthand account of the struggle for equality and the power of nonviolent civil disobedience would continue to inspire a new generation of activists.

"I think the book to some degree has become what I like to call a change agent," Mr. Lewis said. The graphic novel, he said, has caused "another generation to get out there and push and pull and try to set things right." One of his goals is to have "March," published by Top Shelf Productions, distributed in schools and universities throughout the country. Mr. Lewis, 76, was in San Diego, speaking on a conference call with Andrew Aydin, his co- author, and Nate Powell, the book's artist, last week, a day after Book 2 of "March" received an Eisner Award, the comic book industry equivalent of an Oscar, for best reality-based work.

Prestige aside, the Eisner may be the least of this graphic novel's accomplishments. In May, the New York City Department of Education announced that "March" would be part of this fall's Passport to Social Studies program for eighth graders. The series has also been included in reading programs at colleges around the United States, including Michigan State University, Georgia State and the University of Utah.

The genesis of "March" can be traced back to "Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story," a 16-page, 10-cent comic book published in 1957, which advocated nonviolent resistance. In 2008, Mr. Lewis told Mr. Aydin, his digital director and policy adviser, how influential the comic book had been on him and the civil rights movement. Mr. Aydin, who wrote his master's thesis on it, convinced Mr. Lewis to tell his own story as a graphic novel.

At nearly 600 combined pages, the three volumes capture a multitude of events in Mr. Lewis's life: his formative years in Troy, Ala.; helping to organize sit-ins to protest the segregation of lunch counters in Nashville; joining the Freedom Riders to test the Supreme Court decision that outlawed bus segregation; and taking part in the 1963 March on Washington, of which he is the sole surviving speaker.

Another moment, President Barack Obama's inauguration in January 2009, is used as a framing device for the volumes. That day -- depicted with smiles and beaming pride emanating from Mr. Lewis -- stands in sharp contrast to the majority of the story, told in harrowing flashbacks that show brutality and humiliations endured by civil rights activists. …

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