Review: March: Book Three, John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

John Lewis’s graphic memoir March was released in three parts. You can read my reviews of March: Book One and March: Book Two. March: Book Three was released just last month, and it concludes Lewis’s story of participating in the Civil Rights Movement, culminating in his involvement with the march from Selma to Montgomery, AL. and President Johnson’s signing of the Voting Rights Act. Woven through the story is also an account of John Lewis’s experiences on the day Barack Obama was inaugurated.

March: Book Three picks up Lewis’s story with the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. Lewis recounts how violence escalated as the movement drew closer to its goal of achieving voting rights for all. He tells of the murders of Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney, the subject of the film Mississippi Burning. He recalls visiting Africa and meeting Malcolm X. In addition, he recounts his own beating as he crossed the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma.

One of the things I love about this series is it preserves an important episode in American history, told through the voice of one who lived it, in an accessible and engaging way. I personally think the series is indispensable for teaching the Civil Rights Movement to teenagers. The story is interesting enough on its own, but with the hook of the visuals of Nate Powell, which has almost the same immediacy as film, the story really comes alive. Lewis is often called the Conscience of the House. Few have forgotten how he led a sit-in this past summer to attempt to convince the House to vote on gun safety legislation. I can think of few living people I admire more than John Lewis. At the age of 76, he is still actively working—peacefully—to preserve human life and dignity. He is an amazing human being, and his tireless work on behalf of others—all of his life—is just about unparalleled in public service.

The entire March series is a must-read for everyone, especially in these times when some states are engaged in voter suppression tactics. Alabama, for example, recently began enforcing a voter ID law and promptly closed DMV offices in predominantly black communities, making it difficult for African-Americans to obtain the ID’s they need to vote. It’s amazing to read this memoir and think, “these things really happened.” What’s more amazing is that they still do. Black men still have every legitimate reason to fear they will be killed when they are pulled over for minor infractions. Meanwhile, young white men can be caught in the act of rape and get away with very little in the way of repercussions.

In the spirit of John Lewis’s struggle, you owe it to your country and your community to go vote this November. There is a lot at stake in this election. Maybe your first choice of candidate didn’t make it through the primaries. Go vote anyway. Too many people died for your right to vote and to have a say in the way your country is governed, no matter what your background is.


Review: March: Book Two, John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell

I read and reviewed the first volume of John Lewis’s civil rights graphic memoir March: Book One. It took me a little while to get around to reading Book Two, but I picked it up today.

March: Book Two picks up where Book One left off after successful sit-ins in Nashville. In this volume, Lewis becomes more involved with SNCC and becomes increasingly involved in the Civil Rights Movement. He describes participation in several protests, namely attempting to integrate a movie theater in Nashville and testing the Boynton v. Virginia Supreme Court decision through participation the Freedom Rides. He rises to Chairman of the SNCC and describes his role in the March on Washington. He also mentions the Children’s Crusade in Birmingham as a pivotal moment that convinced Kennedy he needed to act (of course, he was assassinated before the Civil Rights Act could be passed). The book ends as the 16th Street Baptist Church is bombed.

Graphic memoir is the perfect medium for telling this story. As much as I have read about it and heard about it and even seen some pictures, these drawings of the frequent violence convey the danger and menace in ways that other media cannot. Cameras could not always go the same places as the soldiers on the frontline of the Civil Rights Movement went, but their memories can be brought to life through this artistic medium.

As with the first volume, this volume flashes back and forth between Barack Obama’s inauguration and Lewis’s memories of the Civil Rights Movement. If anything, the device works even better in this volume. It easy to see how the experiences Lewis had in the 1960’s would have been on his mind as he watched America’s first African-American president be sworn into office.

As in the previous volume, this volume taught me some things I didn’t realize. I didn’t know that Lewis knew Stokely Carmichael. I guess I should have known they knew each other because Lewis has talked about being sent to Parchman Farm with the Freedom Riders, and Carmichael was sent there for the same reason. I guess we tend to compartmentalize and organize people who participated in the Movement without the understanding that at first, they were working side by side (at least a little bit). Carmichael succeeded Lewis as chairman of SNCC. Like I said, I didn’t put it together somehow. I am also a bit embarrassed to admit that though I knew Lewis was there at the March on Washington and at Selma, I didn’t realize he was a Freedom Rider. Lewis has said that he wanted to write his memoir in this way to share his remembrances of the Civil Rights Movement because he thought children would learn from it. Not that this book is just for children or could necessarily be considered a children’s book. However, I think Lewis was on to something with this idea. Here are some tweets with images of Lewis at the San Diego Comic Con, dressed in cosplay as himself—as he dressed for the Selma March.


Yes, I think Lewis gets it about the way to tell his story.

Review: March: Book One, John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

Congressman and Civil Rights Movement legend John Lewis teamed up with his Digital Director & Policy Advisor Andrew Aydin and graphic novelist Nate Powell to write his memoir in the form of a graphic novel. The first part of this memoir, March: Book One, tells Lewis’s story from his beginnings as the son of sharecroppers to his days as a student leading lunch-counter sit-ins in Nashville. The second volume of the memoir, March: Book Two, was published in January.

I became intrigued by the memoir after seeing Rep. Lewis talking about it on his Facebook page. I have to admit he is one of my own personal heroes. He has displayed bravery that I am not sure I’d be capable of. I had the good fortune to meet him when he visited my previous school upon the dedication of an art installation. He said very kind things about the artwork, and I was able to meet him and shake his hand and tell him how much I admired him. I do remember crying. It was amazing. He was so kind and so generous with his time, which is how he comes across in this memoir as well. The story opens as Lewis awakens on the day of Barack Obama’s inauguration and goes to his office. He meets two young boys, and he begins telling them the story of his life, starting with the story of his father purchasing his own farm and Lewis caring for the chickens, through his experiences going to school and yearning to learn, his introduction to Martin Luther King, Jr., and his lunch-counter protests while a college student in Nashville.

My school is considering several books as an all-school summer read, and March: Book One is one of the books under consideration. I loved it. It tells the story of the Civil Rights Movement in an engaging way. Reluctant readers and voracious readers alike will appreciate the way it brings the struggles of the Civil Rights movement to life. Many teenagers are not aware of what African Americans suffered when protesting for their basic civil rights. This book would fit in quite well with our American literature course’s units on social justice and civil disobedience.

The device of the flashback works well as a means for telling Lewis’s story as well. One quibble I have is that some of the speech bubbles are difficult to read. I think it was purposeful because I believe that the indecipherable speech bubbles were supposed to represent speech that was not completely heard or took place a “offstage,” if that makes sense. Still, I wanted to read them and see what was being said.

I liked the artwork, and I loved the concept of casting Lewis in the role of a superhero (a little bit). Lewis’s personality shines through the pages, too. He comes across as warm and intelligent—he’s serious, but he also knows when to use his sense of humor. I learned some things reading the book as well. I didn’t realize, for instance, that Thurgood Marshall encouraged the African-American students to pay bail or to get out of jail.

Graphic novels aren’t for everyone. Despite the success of books like Maus and Persepolis, graphic novels are still not accepted by all as a legitimate medium. If you are one of those folks who do not see graphic novels as legitimate literature, you might not like this book… but if you are one of those folks, I would urge you to give them a try with an open mind.

Rating: ★★★★★