Writers: Rep. John Lewis, Andrew Aydin
Artist: Nate Powell
Publisher: Top Shelf
It’s a rare book that truly brings history alive, that makes the reader feel the immediacy of the events, sense the true fear and anger and passion and strength of the people and the times portrayed. It’s a rare book that combines historical accuracy with an immediacy and intensity that makes the reader experience events like they are right there on the page as the characters, with a full panoply of emotions.
March Book Two is a rare and remarkable book.
Written by John Lewis, a pioneer in the Civil Rights movement, along with fellow writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell, March reminds readers of our recent past and does so in an incredibly compelling way.
Much of Mach focuses on the story of the Freedom Riders, a group of hundreds of people who protested segregated bussing by risking their lives riding the busses in open defiance of public anger and local laws. Lewis, Aydin and Powell bring that story to life using techniques that no other artform could; nearly iconic images resurrect the frightening integrated bus stations of the South, the dread and privations of the riders and the outright terrorism that was brought down on the Riders. We witness beatings and the cold, bleak darkness of fear – and also the explosive, focusing terror of a bus set on fire, beset by angry racists bent on ensuring that their dreadful vision of the South won’t pass from memory.
Lewis, Aydin and Powell depict these scenes in an enthralling way, using iconography and stage setting that maximizes the impact of the scenes. In one section of the story, Birmingham Alabama Chief of Public Safety Bull Connor drives some Freedom Riders out of his state – to the center of KKK country — and the segment, created in a beautiful, all-saturating black that pulls the reader in to a world of unforgettable fear, is staged in a way that adds drama on a human scale, with a personal feel.
So many unforgettable scenes bring this dreadful era of American history to life. In one scene, the KKK surrounds a bus depot inside which many of the Freedom Riders are sleeping; the cold, faceless evil of the Klansmen, pointy hats and tiny slitted eyes make them appear like specters haunting the movement. It’s in those moments you realize something that you might forget when reading the descriptions of these events in history class: these people could have died. Some people did die. They were legitimately in fear for their lives. They are true heroes fighting for what they believed was morally right; under Powell, the faces are complex and fascinating, showing a full range of emotions.
Part of what makes March remarkable is the depth of vision it takes in portraying the struggle. Mr. Lewis and his allies, including Martin Luther King, preached nonviolence as a means for protest. March shows the costs of nonviolence; not just the fact that violence is still visited upon those who believe in nonviolence, but also how that other offenses like jail time follow nonviolence. And the story shows the concept in a three-dimensional feel; as Attorney General Robert Kennedy gains empathy for the Freedom Riders and their supporters, a more radical and angry side, led by Malcolm X, begins to gain attention for an approach that is more violent.
The reader is never told how to fall on this or on many other dilemmas that this book raises, which makes March a perfect work to be taught in high schools or colleges, or as an opening conversation on the topic of civil rights.
As the reader works his or her way through this narrative, to Mr. Lewis’s remarkable speech during the March on Washington on August 28, 1963, our minds have been exposed to so many complex ideas expressed in so many fascinating styles, that the speech reads like a benediction, or perhaps a summation, or at times a prophecy that cuts across 50 years of history and shines like a beacon for the future of America and the world today. Its power and intelligence, beautifully rendered by Powell, is a stunning summary of how far the movement came and how much struggle is still ahead.
We owe a tremendous amount of gratitude to those who fought for our country and worked to make the United States stronger. Our long festering legacy of racism is a never-ending specter of our complex past that still resonates today. A book like March artfully reminds readers of the patriots who risked their lives to help end the crimes that we committed against ourselves.
This is a book that everyone should read.