March: Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell

In Mississippi that summer we suffered more than 1000 arrests, 80 beatings, 35 shootings, 35 church burnings, and 30 bombings. Doctors who evaluated volunteers returning home from Freedom Summer describes the symptoms of the emotional and physical toll as “battle fatigue,” marking a “crisis in the  lives of those youths who experience them.”

March: Book 3 is a marvel. I read Books 1 and 2 back in 2016 (review of Book 2 here) and loved them. They gave me a window into what it was like to put your body and life on the line for the Civil Rights movement of the early 1960s, how horrible the violence and hatred that met these young people was, and also gave me a new respect for what a true hero Representative John Lewis is.  I didn’t read the concluding volume when it came out because demand was high at my library and there were few copies. And then it got lost in the shuffle – you know how that goes. I’m so glad I chose to finally finish the series. Book 3 is another enlightening, moving gem, focusing specifically on the push for African Americans’ right to vote in the South, ultimately leading to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Opening with the horrific bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, that killed four little girls, the graphic memoir next explores the ways in which Southern whites prevented African Americans from exercising their right to vote, through intimidation, literacy tests, threats to their jobs and homes, or any other whim that the local Registrar of Voters could come up with. Lewis’s work as leader of SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) along with others like Fannie Lou Hamer and Bob Moses, coordinating marches, sit-ins, and protests across the Deep South to enforce voting rights was met at every turn with violence, intimidation, and police brutality.

The graphic novel format is the perfect medium to tell this story because it makes the violence and hatred feel so visceral and terrifying. Some brave young activists, white and black alike, were killed in the line of duty and their killers were never brought to justice. I hope this series is taught in high schools across America – until we truly know and confront our past we can’t hope to make progress against the deep strain of racism still alive and well in our country. I wish I had read something like this when I was in school so that I would have been aware of what the Civil Rights heroes were up against. These events seem far away sometimes, but my mother was a little girl when all of this occurred – it really wasn’t that long ago. Some people in power today were young people growing up steeped in the segregated culture of hate and violence.

The brutal, televised beatings of non-violent protesters on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on “Bloody Sunday,” John Lewis included, forced the rest of America to finally look at the brutality enforced by state and local governments in the South.  March portrays President Lyndon Johnson as a sympathetic, if at times halting and measured, ally of the cause. The political maneuverings of 1963-1965 were interesting but not as compelling as the stories of the activists fighting for justice on the streets. When we finally get to the end of the volume, back in the 2009 inauguration of President Obama, it feels bittersweet, knowing how many people who worked for equality didn’t make it to see that great day.

In short, this series is phenomenal and I highly recommend it, even if you don’t ever read graphic novels or graphic memoirs. What a gift this series is.

Have you read this series? What other histories, biographies, or memoirs of Civil Rights heroes would you recommend?

22 thoughts on “March: Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell

  1. I haven’t read many graphic novels but I haven’t heard of these. I will have to pick them up very soon! I love knowing there is something available to readers today, especially young people, to make this period in history and the figures we might not always here about, a voice. Thanks for sharing these with us!

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  2. Sounds like a great way to get to know this story – I hope you’re right that it gets taught in schools! Every western country has problems with questions of race, but the American history is so unique and still so raw. Like millions of others around the world, I thought Obama’s election meant that the racial divide was healed – sadly, if anything, it seems to have got worse. Maybe one day…

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    1. I hold hope too, FF. In some ways things are getting better – the sheer volume of podcasts and books being published exploring our shameful American past is cause for hope I think. Until we know what happened, really know, we can’t move forward, at least that’s my opinion. I think we’ve not done a good job especially about teaching the Reconstruction period and Jim Crow era in American schools. I hope that tide is turning on that.

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      1. I must admit I’m entirely ignorant about the whole Reconstruction period and Jim Crow. Do you know of any good fiction books that are set in those times? Graphic novels never really work for me unfortunately.

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      2. Well, actually I learned a lot about the Jim Crow era from Yaa Gyasi’s Homecoming. Have you read it? It follows two sisters, one who stays in Africa, and one who is a slave in the United States, and their children and lineages through the generations. I loved that novel. But I have a lot more reading to do on these topics, mostly nonfiction: Stamped From the Beginning and The Warmth of Other Suns being two nonfiction books I must read.

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      3. No, I haven’t read Homecoming though I’ve been tempted by many positive reviews of it. Thank you – I shall add it to my wishlist! Hope you get to your other choices soon, and let us know what you think of them… 😀

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  3. I was going to say that I wish these books were taught in high school. Possibly because parents might protest violent content, the Civil Rights Movement, at least in my schools, focused on the feel-good aspect of civil rights, such as MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the underground railroad (without going into much detail, easily leaving students to wonder if an actual subway safely brought slaves to the North).

    I would also recommend Maus and Persepolis if you want historical perspectives, and if you want graphic memoirs of contemporary stories, I recommend Tangles (Sarah Leavitt), Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (Roz Chast), and Fun Home (Allison Bechdel). Lastly, if you are looking for graphic fiction, I would suggest Over Easy (Mimi Pond), That One Summer (the Tamakis), and The Rabbi’s Cat (Johann Sfar).

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  4. I loved this series! I learned so much. John Lewis and all those involved are heroes. So amazing! I got a little teary at the end when I came to that “Because of You John” panel you shared above.

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  5. I love what you said about confronting our past so as to make changes in our present/future. People do tend to sweep things under the carpet especially when it involves ugly truths. However, what is swept under the carpet has a tendency of resurfacing. This sounds like such a powerful series. I haven’t read autobiographies set in the period though I have watched Selma. Will add this series. Great review!

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