I read this graphic novel in three parts by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin (illustrated by Nate Powell) because no one would shut up about how good it was.
They were right.
I am ashamed to admit that, prior to reading it, I had no idea who John Lewis was. Thanks to this series and a few movies, I have since educated myself somewhat, but I still feel woefully ignorant of the subject.
The book starts with Lewis’s childhood and follows him and the Civil Rights movement through the March on Selma. It covers how he got involved in SNCC and became chairman, as well as how the group changed over time. He described in detail how they planned and executed their sit ins and the freedom rides, including insulting and assaulting each other to prepare for the kind of treatment they’d have to deal with from disgruntled white people.
The book actually opens on the morning of January 20th, 2008 and scenes from that inauguration are sprinkled throughout the novel. It is beautiful and inspiring, but of course, having read it after last November gave it a completely different tone.
Ultimately the tone of this book is hopeful and I still think it should be. I took solid advice from this book, as well as solace that things will get better. In 1960 it was impossible for anyone to imagine a black family in the White House, but the Obamas made it their home for eight years. I was crushed when Hillary lost to that blowhard, but I have to believe that our time will come. I still have a lot of life left to live (hopefully) and there’s no way of knowing what will happen in that time. Yes, the feminist movement still has a long way to go, but racism isn’t solved either. We all have to keep fighting because there is no alternative.
I also feel the need to give special attention to Powell’s illustrations. They are all in black and white (except for the covers) and extremely powerful. A picture really is worth a thousand words and possibly more than that in Powell’s hands. His use of dark and light, the contrast between them, and the occasional mostly-empty page to let the reader sit with the emotional impact of the frame is astounding.
As beautiful and inspirational as the book is, that doesn’t mean it was always easy to read. Getting called n—– was the least of these people’s problems. People were shot, beaten, and blown up. Lewis, King, and everyone who worked with them were risking their lives in a very literal sense. Their bravery is mind blowing to me and yet they really didn’t have any other option. Without the sacrifices they made, Jim Crow would still be alive and well and we would all be suffering for it.
Through it all I have to ask myself if I would have been as brave had I been in their shoes. I’d like to say yes, but no one really knows. I will say it’s easier for me to say yes as a single woman. If I had kids to take care of, I’m sure my willingness to risk their lives would change my answer. It did not change King’s or any of those he worked with and we all owe them an insurmountable debt of gratitude.
What did you guys read this week? Anything else that’s particularly timely?