The Best Moments from John Lewis’s Graphic Novel of the Civil Rights Movement, Pt. 1

March: Book One, cover detail

I knew the late John Lewis had been an important figure in the Civil Rights Movement, but until I read his award-winning graphic novel series chronicling the era, I had no idea just how involved he was.

From 1960 through to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Lewis was a key figure in just about every major episode: the sit-ins, freedom rides, March on Washington, Birmingham protests, Mississippi freedom summer, and of course the Selma to Montgomery marches. As head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Lewis was considered one of the “Big Six” activists, spearheading the most prominent civil rights organizations of the period. The others included Martin Luther King Jr., James Farmer, A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins and Whitney Young.

Of all I’ve read over the years about the Civil Rights Movement, probably nothing is quite as engaging or memorable as Lewis’s three graphic novels—March: Book One (2013), March: Book Two (2015), and March: Book Three (2016)—and if I ever get to teach 20th century U.S. history, I’m definitely going to use them, even with older students. After reading through them recently, I decided that they were interesting and captivating enough that I had to share some stills from some of my favorite moments in the series. (Note: You might have to zoom in to see them clearly…)

Thus, here are four key moments from March: Book One:

1.) That time 5-year-old John Lewis first learned to preach by reading scripture to his chickens…

“I was a preacher.”

2.) That time 11-year-old John Lewis took a trip north in the summer of 1951 with his Uncle Otis and it changed his whole point of view…

“I couldn’t believe it — they had white people living next door to them.”
“After that trip, home never felt the same.”

3.) That time 18-year-old John Lewis started attending Rev. Jim Lawson’s nonviolence workshops as a seminary student in Nashville and it turned him into an activist…

“His words liberated me.”
“We TRIED to dehumanize each other.”
“But the hardest part to learn… was how to find LOVE for your attacker.”

4.) That time 20-year-old John Lewis put his training into practice and got the crap beat out of him at a Woolworth’s sit-in, leading to his first night in jail…

“Violence begets violence, but the opposite is just as true.”
“I felt free, liberated — like I had crossed over.”

Nashville’s sit-ins began only 10 days after the more famous Greensboro sit-ins. Not long after that first showdown, the lunch counters in Nashville were desegregated. But that was only an early triumph — in a comparably progressive city. So much more struggle would still have to be endured, so much more blood would have to be spilled. I’ll post Part 2 in a couple days.

Sorry if the stills are hard to see. I did my best. Just zoom in if you can’t see them. It’s a fantastic series for anyone who’s interested!

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