I had the distinct honor of interviewing Rep. John Lewis, one of the leading forces behind the Civil Rights movement in America, about the upcoming March Book Two, to be released on January 20th via Top Shelf Productions. Rep. Lewis, co-writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell have created a graphic novel equally as amazing and impressive as the first volume; as our conversation began we were discussing Nate Powell’s outstanding artwork on the project.
Jason Sacks for Comics Bulletin: How did he get involved with this project?
Lewis: Andrew [Aydin] first of all spoke to spoke to the publisher as we were trying to locate an artist. Someone had suggested to Nate Powell that he should try out for it. Soon Nate was accepted. And I tell you that this was one of the best decisions that I know the two of us have made. I don’t know whether Andrew would agree with me or not. And I tell you one thing, we’ve become like a circle of trust, a band of brothers. The three of us grew up in the south. These two men are much younger than I am. We shared the stories. Andrew had done so much research that he knew almost everything there was to know about me. Nate has this unbelievable capacity to just grasp… he’s so quick and so fast.
CB: I think you put it well. He has this unbelievable capacity to bring the emotions and events to life. He really emphasizes the story that you and Andrew telling in this book, where you really feel like you’re experiencing the pain and pleasure that these people are feeling.
Lewis: When I look at the drawings… some of them I want to buy them from him and get them framed, to remind me of what happened and how it happened, and never to forget, but always to remember a certain period in American history.
CB: It really brings the moment to life. Even a character like Bull Connor – I refer to him as a character but he’s certainly a human being – and he’s there in all his vividness in the story.
Lewis: That’s what the movement was all about. Bull Connor, Sherriff Clark in Selma, Governor Wallace, they were all characters. But they were also all human, as you stated. In keeping with the philosophy to non-violence, we had to respect the dignity of every human being, and in the process try to change them to become a little bit more human.
CB: One thread you have in the book is the non-violent aspect of the movement, and you specifically set your part of the movement aside from Malcolm X’s wing. I thought that was an interesting element to bring in. It obviously was a big dilemma for you and Dr. King as you were debating how to move forward.
Lewis: We were taught to accept non-violence as a way of life, as a way of living, and not just use it as a technique or as a tactic, but it had become one of those immutable principles from which you could not and would not deviate from. If you couldn’t hold yourself to engage in violence or become embittered or hostile, you allowed yourself to be defeated by the other person.
CB: I have to tell you, from a 2015 vantage point, that may be the most extraordinary part of it.
Lewis: Thanks. We continue to try.
CB: It’s a lesson we can learn in Congress these days.
Lewis: That’s one of the reasons that I continue to take members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, back to the South each year. I’ve done that for the last fifteen years. I take them to Birmingham, to Montgomery, to Selma.
CB: Clearly a big part of this project for you is the educational aspect of it. I believe I read the book is taught in some schools.
Lewis: That’s correct. Several schools have adopted the book as required reading. Schools in more than 40 states are using the book. Michigan State University has made it required reading for all their freshman students this past September. Georgia State made it required reading along. At Michigan State there are more than 8000 freshman students; at Georgia State there are more than 3500. At Marquette, in Milwaukee, they’ve made it required reading for all of their freshman students.
CB: Why do you feel this book has hit such a chord with people?
Lewis: I think the book is, as people are reading it and studying it. Their peers are reading it, the children in elementary school, middle school, high school, they’re reading it as a college assignment and they’re discussing it. I think they can see, they can see what happened and how it happened, and it’s so simple and so plain.
CB: That’s really true. It brings it alive in such a beautiful way.
This book climaxes with the March on Washington and your speech. Obviously you consider that to be one of the watershed moments of your life, to present a speech with such power.
Lewis: When I look back on it, the feeling at the March on Washington – that was my second time coming to Washington, to be asked to participate in the March on Washington and meet with President Kennedy – and to be asked to be one of the speakers, when I look back on it, it was one of the defining moments of my life. I was 23 years old, speaking before 250,000, and saying what I felt and I believed, it changed me. It made me the person I am today.
CB: I read the speech and it’s so beautifully written, and I can’t help but to see a reflection in some ways of our world today.
Lewis: One line in that speech is, “Which side is the Federal government on?” We see so much happening today in American society. In our world, we have to say, is there something else we can do as a people, as a government, to help those that are in need and those who have been left behind. We need to spend more of our limited resources on taking care of all the people. We need to make sure that all our children get good educations and they get good healthcare, protection of their environment, and saying this whole planet for generations yet unborn.
It’s my hope that the writings that we’re doing will help inspire another generation to finally get in the way, and make some noise and not be so quiet.
CB: That’s a perfect way to close the interview. Those are inspiring words.