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Monday, November 21, 2016

MARCH: National Book Award Winner Reminds Us that Eternal Vigilance is the Price of Freedom

Are you still as stressed out about politics as I am? What have we done, America? I find it hard to concentrate on anything except how to channel my fear, disgust and outrage into effective political action. So when I heard on Thursday morning that Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis’s graphic novel March, Book Three had won the National Book Award (the first graphic novel to be so honored) I knew what my post this week would be about. I practically ran to my neighborhood indy bookstore and bought March Trilogy Slipcase Set of all three volumes. Aimed at teens and young adults, March is a must-read for anyone who considers themselves part of the new resistance to the hatred, racism and misogyny of our upcoming administration, no matter what your age. March is both a refresher course in the history of the civil rights movement as told by someone who lived it, and a reminder that now, more than ever, we need to stay vigilant, to never forget how hard won our freedoms are, to stand up and march!

John Lewis had been inspired as a young man by the 1950s comic book Martin Luther King & The Montgomery Story. After learning of this, Andrew Aydin, an employee in the congressional office of Rep. Lewis, conceived of the March trilogy. He collaborated with Lewis on the text, and Nate Powell, a New York Times best-selling graphic novelist, was brought on board to do the illustrations. The prose is lively and compelling, while the stark black and white illustrations with lettered text, sound effects and background music amplify the story.

Book One opens with “krak, whap, thud, thump,” the cartoon-ized sounds we normally associate with fictionalized superheroes. But these are the horrifying sounds of real-life superheroes, John Lewis and other non-violent protesters, being beaten while kneeling to pray on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. This part of the story, however, is not told fully until the end of Book Three. Instead we cut to Rep. Lewis preparing for Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration on a cold Washington, DC morning, a scene which is interwoven with Lewis’s personal story across all three volumes.

Lewis’ parents were sharecroppers in rural Alabama, eking out an existence on 110 acres that they bought for $300, money his father had earned by tenant farming. Young John was put in charge of the chickens, a job which he took very seriously, dreaming of having enough money to buy an incubator from the Sears-Roebuck catalog, or as they called it, the wish book. He also dreamed of becoming a preacher, preaching regularly to his chickens.
Click here to see Rachel Madow's report on the publication of Book Two and her interview with Lewis, Aydin and Powell.
Years later, when the young preacher tried to transfer from American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville to Troy State, which wouldn’t accept any black students, he wrote to introduce himself to Dr. Martin Luther King. The letter resulted in the first meeting between the two, a meeting that made a lasting impression on Lewis. He ultimately decided to stay in Nashville and it was there, through his church, that he was introduced to Gandhi’s ideas of nonviolence. He was on his way.

Lewis would go on to become chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and was one of the "Big Six" leaders of groups who organized the 1963 March on Washington, speaking at the podium before King gave his famous “I have a dream” speech. Lewis was arrested more than 40 times over the years and suffered severe injuries through beatings, but never strayed from his belief in nonviolence. The bravery and hard work of Lewis and many others culminated in President Johnson signing the 1965 Voting Rights Act in to law.

Buy this book for the young people on your holiday list, buy it for yourself.

Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.

Click here to purchase the March Trilogy Slipcase Set from Amazon.com

Click here to purchase March Book One from Amazon.com

Click here to purchase March Book Two from Amazon.com

Click here to purchase March Book Three from Amazon.com

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