I am so glad that I got over my “I don’t read graphic novels” thing. What was that about, anyway? I’d just never read one before, so I didn’t know what I was missing. It was like my five year-old and everything he won’t eat. I tell him, “You think you don’t like blueberries, but you don’t know, because you haven’t even tried them.” (Yes, readers, my son currently won’t eat blueberries, among other things that are yummy. I know.)
I don’t review a lot of the graphic novels I read, but I knew I had to review March: Book Two. It’s going to be one of my favorite books this year, I can tell. I read March: Book One back in June, gave it five stars on Goodreads, and knew I wanted to continue reading the series. The first book introduced us to the legendary U.S. Congressman John Lewis’s background as a farm boy growing up in rural Alabama and how he got involved with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the early days of the Civil Rights Movement.
Book Two opens with the SNCC working in Nashville to desegregate fast food restaurants and movie theaters. But its real center is the Freedom Rides, which tested out the 1960 Supreme Court case that was supposed to desegregate buses and bus terminals nationwide. We meet the first group of Freedom Riders, an integrated group of mostly young people from all over the country, as they get ready to travel deep into the segregated American South.
I don’t know about your high school history classes, but even though I had some amazing teachers, we never seemed to get much beyond the Second World War chronologically. So though I had heard of the Freedom Riders before, I didn’t really make an emotional connection to the horrors they had to face for simply riding a bus. Reading March: Book Two, seeing the powerful illustrations, made me feel the hatred and violence in a way that no text book or lecture could.
Juxtaposed with the beatings and the hard work of negotiating the tone of their nonviolent campaign is the promise and hope of the inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2009. This is moving, knowing how far our country has come in 50 years, while still realizing how much work we still have to do to deal with racism. Probably the most chilling aspect of the graphic novel was the extent to which some Southern politicians and police officers colluded with the vicious mobs, allowing them time to work over the Freedom Riders before they stopped the beatings. Reading about how open these men were with their racists ideologies made me feel ill, knowing that there are those today who aspire to political office with similar belief systems.
I highly recommend both March:Book One and March:Book Two even to those who don’t care for or haven’t ever tried graphic novels. I am so glad that these volumes exist, and that perhaps students will read them and become more aware of such a horrible part of our history. My mom was a six-year old when these men and women were getting viciously attacked for doing something legal in the eyes of the Supreme Court. She was eight years old when Congressman Lewis and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were speaking at the march on Washington, D.C. in 1963. It really wasn’t all that long ago, although it sometimes seems like it. Much of the work that we need to do as a country involves reckoning with our history, and I think young white people in particular need to learn more about the Civil Rights Movement and the South’s violent pushback. I’m so glad that I read these powerful books. The concluding volume of this series, March: Book Three, just became available earlier this month. I’m eager to read it.