A timely recommendation for Black History Month, librarian and Riverton resident, Nancy Fort, has another in her series of excellent book reviews. While this may be a three-volume set, it is also a very-approachable description of the US Civil Rights Movement. Her choice: March, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell.
March is a graphic novel that depicts John Lewis’ work with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the early 1960’s. The three volumes illustrate how SNCC worked with other civil rights groups to end segregation in the South.
The story begins as Congressman Lewis prepares to attend the inauguration of the country’s first African-American president. He greets a family in his office and tells the children about the work that he and many others did that led to this day.
I don’t know much about this period of American history. I was very impressed with the level of coordinated effort that these groups achieved. It could not have been easy to organize people in multiple cities and make sure everybody had the same instructions and training. Indeed, Mr. Lewis traveled all over the country as Director of SNCC to offer training, give pep talks and recruit people to the movement. There are many instances in the novel when individuals have to put their egos aside to forward the work for equality. There were disagreements about what message the movement should send and the best way to get it out to the American public. There were negotiations between Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. One of my favorite scenes in the book is when John Lewis is present at a meeting with Dr. King and several other leaders of the civil rights movement and doesn’t open his mouth in fear of his youth and inexperience. That seemed to me like something we have all experienced at one time or another.
The graphic novel format also helped to humanize the story. You can read words that somebody was spit on or hit in the head with a baton but to see the angry faces of spectators and belligerent postures of law enforcement officers really brought the danger home. These books are written for adults but my 11-year old son read them and besides being shocked to see the “n-word”, he seemed to gain a better understanding of the subject.
March: Volume 3 received numerous awards this year and if you get a chance, listen to or watch John Lewis’ speech from the National Book Award dinner. It is so moving and reminds us that while much work was done, there is still work to do.