Because I’m not from the United States, I hadn’t heard of John Lewis before this year, when then-president-elect Donald Trump accused him of being “all talk” after Lewis asserted that Trump was an “illegitimate” president. Whether or not one agrees wth that statement, Lewis – a man John McCain once called “one of the most respected men in America”, who was instrumental in organizing the sit-ins and bus that helped change the face of segregated America; spoke at the March on Washington (where King made his famous “I Have a Dream” speech); and who has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom among other honours – is most definitively the antithesis of “all talk”.
The son of Alabama sharecroppers, Lewis grew up believing he would be a preacher: he found great strength and comfort in his faith and wanted to share that with others (even preaching to the chickens he was meant to be feeding). Disillusioned with preachers that ignored the racial discrimination prevalent at the time, he became inspired by Martin Luther King’s “social gospel”, which aimed to apply Christian ethics to social problems. As a student, Lewis became an adherent of the nonviolent protest movement, and in March: Book One we see him and his fellow students confront the intolerance of segregated society (most notably during the Greensboro lunch-counter sit-ins) with quiet, determined dignity and a doggedness of spirit that is heartbreaking and inspiring in equal measure.
Nate Powell’s sparse, evocative art is perfect for the subject matter, neither too “cartoony” nor too flat. It brings this history strikingly to life with great reverence and warmth. Even during the harshest of times, a sense of great love and hope and determination flows through the narrative, which is a testament to the writing and art working so very well together.
This a very fast and easy read, and is best approached as a primer on the US Civil Rights Movement – though this by no means diminishes its value as an educational tool, as a glimpse back into the past, or even just as a peek into the mind of a man who has spent his life fighting for freedom, justice, and peace.
Generously provided by Diamond Book Distributors.
The entire March trilogy is available at Amazon as a boxed set: