Review by Stacie C.
I first learned of John Lewis’s graphic novel series, March, on Litsy. I had never read graphic novels, and I honestly wasn’t too concerned with reading this one. But days before the Inauguration, when Lewis’s credibility was publicly questioned, I purchased the trilogy not only out of respect for John Lewis, but because I was curious and interested to see how Lewis uses this medium to explore the Civil Rights Movement. The series came in the mail the day of the Woman’s March. I opened it and casually flipped through the pages to get a sense of the story. I knew immediately that I would want to share this experience with my son.
Now would be a great time for a little background on my life. I’m a Black woman who has been married to White man for 10 years. My biracial son has known nothing but love and compassion from both sides of his family, my husband’s predominantly white side and my predominantly black one. He attends an extremely diverse school and has never experienced overt racism. On the other hand, I was raised in south central Los Angeles and knew firsthand what it meant to be fully aware of my Blackness and the racism that comes along with it. When I was his age, I had been called a nigger, experienced the 1992 riots and the OJ Simpson trial, and the obvious racial divide was at an all-time high. My upbringing and his are two completely different things. For that reason alone, I have had open and honest conversations about race with my son for a few years, ever since a young classmate asked me in front of my son if he was adopted because of our obvious difference in skin color. I felt that March would be a visceral experience for both of us, one that would both educate and highlight the ongoing fight for civil rights in this country.
Before we started reading March, I explained to my son who John Lewis is and what he represents. I showed him pictures of Lewis during the Civil Rights Movement with different leaders of the movement and also pictures of him now. I wanted to ground my son in the truth of this experience. I didn’t want the fact that his story was told in graphic novel form to dilute reality. I needn’t have worried. I knew from the moment I began reading March that these drawings would heighten the reading experience and make the images of the Civil Rights struggle all too real. I was unable to shy away from the images present on each page. As the story unfurled and the fight continued, each image released even more power and substance. Luckily for me, a friend of mine created a pacing guide to finish the entire trilogy within three weeks for a read-along we were co-hosting on Litsy (#MarchinMarch). This was invaluable to me while reading the trilogy with my son; he had a plethora of questions about which I wanted to have an open dialogue with him.
For a little over three weeks, we were consumed with these books and the history it detailed. Lewis begins with a preview of the March on Selma and the danger it entailed for its participants. He then launches into the future to look at the Inauguration of Barack Obama as the first Black President of the United States. At that point, the story goes back to John Lewis’s childhood and works its way throughout the history of the Civil Rights Movement with small glimpses back to Obama’s Inauguration. I can’t express how powerful those glimpses were—the presence of that day littered throughout a story filled with brutality against those fighting for justice and equality were a constant reminder of the reason why these events had to take place if change was ever going to happen. It was as obvious to me as it was to my son, even though he will never know a world where a Black man can’t be president, and I never thought I would see the day.
Our time spent delving into John Lewis’s story, which is a part of our history in the United States, is something I will never forget and always cherish. His honesty in the telling of his story forced me to be honest with my son. Lewis’s choice to use a graphic novel to tell his story proved to be an ingenious decision. Lewis’s narrative was poignant alongside images of billy clubs swinging, the harassment of peaceful marchers, people screaming “nigger” in children’s faces, four innocent girls dying because of a bomb in a church, and a map to get you safely through states during the Jim Crow Era. When we were forced to confront the images on the page because they are as vital to the telling of the story as the text on the page, there is no way to hide. It was a powerful, gut-wrenching experience. The horror was laid out on the page, but so were the victories. The journey for equality is not over, and it’s something I grapple with every day. In his youth, my son still may not understand how far we have come because it is so foreign to what he experiences daily. But at the very least, because of books like March, he will know that we have always fought for our rights, allies have always fought beside us, and we will continue to fight until the battle for equality and justice is won.
March (Slipcase Trilogy Set) by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, Illustrated by Nate Powell, Top Shelf Productions 2016
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Stacie C. is a book reviewer and co-founder of the Litsy Feminist Book Club. She is one of the editors of Books that Shook Us.