The Best Moments from John Lewis’s Graphic Novel of the Civil Rights Movement, Pt. 2

March: Book Two, cover detail

As I wrote in Part 1: I knew the late John Lewis was an important figure in the Civil Rights Movement, but until I read his 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 eight more key moments, now from March: Book Two:

1.) That time John Lewis got locked in during a restaurant sit-in and they fumigated the place and almost killed him…

“It was a fumigator. Used only for killing pest.”
“It was not the last time I thought I saw death.”

2.) That time John Lewis got called away for a job interview with The American Friends Service Committee in the middle of one of the Freedom Rides and the bus he was on was firebombed the next day…

“So I decided to go to Philadelphia.”
“But my group never made it to Birmingham.”

3.) That time Bull Connor personally escorted Lewis and other protesters from Birmingham jail back to Tennessee but then purposely dropped them off by the highway at night in middle-of-nowhere Klan country and they had to beg for shelter from an elderly black couple…

“Mr. Connor, when we get to Nashville, you’re welcome to join us for breakfast.”
“This is where you’ll be getting out.”
“Please sir, let us in. We’re in trouble.”

4.) That time Lewis and other protesters were sent to the Mississippi State Penitentiary – aka “Parchman Farm” – and they kept on singing and protesting until the guards took their mattresses away…

“Parchman was the stuff of legends — dark legends.”
“Gandhi wrapped a rag around his balls and brought down the whole British Empire.”
“And so began ‘the mattress war.'”

5.) That time civil rights activists like Bob Moses were being met with increasingly brazen acts of violent resistance in Mississippi and yet never backed down or strayed from nonviolence, even while fractures in the larger movement were starting to appear elsewhere…

“A local black farmer named Herbert Lee who started working with Bob Moses … was shot dead by E. H. Hurst — a member of the Mississippi State Legislature.”
“Our cause remained the same, but our methods were in question.”

6.) That time King was jailed in Birmingham and Jim Bevel stepped in and helped organize the massive children’s march that led to nearly 1,000 juvenile arrests and embarrassed the city of Birmingham…

“His response, written on scraps of paper and smuggled out of his cell, was the ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail.'”
“In a movement, you don’t deal with the press — you act like there is no press. Otherwise you end up staging it.”
“Nearly a thousand of Birmingham’s black children were arrested that day.”

7.) That time Bayard Rustin was called in to help organize the March on Washington and Strom Thurmond outed him to the entire nation – and Rustin just kept on working…

“There is no one … more qualified to organize this endeavor than Bayard Rustin.”
“Bayard showed no sign the attacks were getting to him.”

8.) That time John Lewis gave an inspiring and (at the time) controversial speech at the March on Washington…

“‘One man, one vote’ is the African cry. It is ours too — it must be ours!”
“My friends, let us not forget that we are involved in a … social revolution.”
“By the force of our demands, our determination, and our numbers, we shall splinter the segregated South into a thousand pieces, and put them together in the image of God and democracy.”

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August, 1963, was indeed a hugely important moment in the Civil Rights Movement, but it would be two more years of terrible struggle and bloodshed before the greatest achievements of the movement would be realized. That’s the story of Part 3, which I’ll post in a few days.

Again, 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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