Back when Jon Stewart was hosting The Daily Show, he had on Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), the lion of the civil rights movement. He was plugging March, Book Two, which continued the description of the “historic events he participated in as a leader of the civil rights movement,” sharing “his desire to inspire the next generation of activists with his graphic novel trilogy.” I said, “I should get that,” but did not.
Recently, Lewis returned to The Daily Show, now hosted by Trevor Noah, promoting March, Book Three. So when I got a chance to review that book, I took it.
If you saw the movies The Watsons Go to Birmingham (2013) or Selma (2014), a major event is portrayed in both, very early in the latter film. When it was portrayed in March, Book Three, I knew it was coming, yet it was heartbreaking, all the same.
There were several events that were familiar to me – the measures used to keep blacks from voting; the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party that tried to oust the “regular”, segregated group at the 1964 Democratic convention; the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner for trying to get black people registered to vote in Mississippi; and the complicated Lyndon B. Johnson.
Still, there was a lot I had forgotten, or never knew, drawn together in a compelling narrative. The story culminates with the march from Selma to Montgomery, thwarted on Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965 which I remembered well because it was my twelfth birthday, it was as realistic as the movie portrayal.
It was important to see that the civil rights movement was not monolithic, not always in sync, which should give some comfort to today’s protesters, who, in Lewis’ word both in the book and in person, are making the “good kind of trouble.”
One could wonder about whether characters such as LBJ, Martin Luther King and even John Lewis looked like pictures I’ve seen at time. And I feared that readers less obsessed with the period than I would know the characters mentioned once and brought back 10 pages later. But these are quibbles.
An interesting aspect of the book is the appearance of one Barack Obama, clearly the legacy of the civil rights struggle, and some might think, the culmination. But, if you hear Lewis’ words in interviews, Obama’s election as President in no way ends the struggle for equality.
Knowing how much people, especially black people, struggled and even died for the right to vote in this country forces me to cast my ballot at every opportunity. It also makes me extremely impatient with folks who choose not to do so.
I will have to put March, Books 1 and 2 on my Christmas list.
Prince Ea: WHO I’M VOTING FOR…
The struggle is not over: Southern states have closed down at least 868 polling places for the 2016 election
A version of this review originally appeared in Trouble with Comics.