John Lewis recounts his role in the Civil Rights struggle in this series of graphic nonfiction histories that vividly portray the difficulty, agony, and ultimate triumph.
March Book One and March Book Three by John Lewis and Andrew Ayden, artwork by Nate Powell. Top Shelf Productions, 2013 and 2016.
Reading Level: Teen, ages 12-15
Recommended for: Ages 15-up
About ten years ago Andrew Aydin, then serving as communications director in the office of Representative John Lewis, suggested a joint project to his boss: why not write a graphic-novel account of Mr. Lewis’s pivotal role in the Civil Rights movement of the early 1960s? March Book One, published in 2013, begins with Lewis’s rural-Georgia childhood, when he preached to chickens and dreamed of occupying a real pulpit someday. In college, however, he became involved in political activism with the Nashville lunch-counter sit-ins. From that time he never looked back, choosing politics as evangelism by other means. Volume two (which I haven’t read) opens with the election of 1960 and increasing agitation in the south as the Civil Rights movement takes shape, ending with the March on Washington and the Assassination of JFK. March Book Three, published last summer, swept this year’s ALA youth media honors with two Coretta Scott King Awards, the YALSA prize for outstanding nonfiction, and the Prinz medal for best book for Young Adults.
March Book Three begins with the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, where four young girls lost their lives. It ends with President Johnson signing the Voting Rights Acts of 1964, putting a legal halt to the vicious attempts to keep blacks from voting in the south. In between those two events came the Freedom Summer (in which three young volunteers were murdered), the election of 1964, the “Dixiecrat” walkout from the Democratic convention, the assassination of Malcolm X, and the iconic march from Selma to Montgomery Alabama, beginning with the infamous Edmund Pettis Bridge where Mr. Lewis was beaten to within an inch of his life. It’s almost too much for a single volume, which is why Book Three runs to fully twice the length of Book One. Events come thick and fast and the political maneuvering gets confusing. It would have helped to include a list of historical characters and a chronology.
But this is essential history, and the dramatic, graphic format provides an accessible way to get up close and personal with a battle that had ti be fought. Conservative Republicans can quibble with the way some of their leading lights, such as Barry Goldwater are portrayed–as a de facto racist, which he wasn’t. But the stakes were high, the price was steep, and the courage and determination of these men and women were undeniable, especially as they stuck to the principle of nonviolence in the face of the most vicious provocation. Within just a few years, their stoic endurance and principled love turned the tide of public opinion in their favor. What they accomplished should be an example of us today.
Cautions: Language (small amount of graphic language, including the f- word and profanity), disturb ing images and testimonies of violence
Overall Rating: 3.75 (out of 5)