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John Lewis marches on: “Our struggle is a struggle to redeem the soul of America”

John Lewis marches on: "Our struggle is a struggle to redeem the soul of America"

“How could our quest for human dignity spawn such evil?”

That’s a question posed by on an early page of his new graphic memoir, “.” The year is 1963. The place: Birmingham, Alabama. The Civil Rights Movement is in full swing, and so is the violent counter-movement to snuff it out. The claiming the lives of four little girls. And this was not an isolated incident. When describing the events of 1964, Lewis and his co-authors — the acclaimed graphic novelist, , and Lewis’s Digital Director and Policy Advisor, — write, “In Mississippi that summer we suffered more than 1,000 arrests, 80 beatings, 35 shootings, 35 church burnings, and 30 bombings.” On another page, Lewis, who was then the chairman of the (SNCC), says, “The news from Washington seemed so far away – we were in the middle of a war.”

Book Three is the violent, yet triumphant, capstone to a trilogy that serves two narrative purposes. On one level, it is an autobiography of a man who, as the book’s promo copy notes, rose from an “Alabama sharecropper’s farm to the halls of Congress, from a segregated schoolroom to the 1963 March on Washington, and from receiving beatings from state troopers to receiving the Medal of Freedom from the first African-American president.”

But the books are also a sweeping visual history of the Civil Rights Movement offering stories of Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and countless other characters, including Alabama Governor George Wallace, who, in a speech depicted in 2015’s “,” calls for “Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” By the end of Book Three — and after countless scenes of beatings, arrests, murders, and ongoing, defiant protests and sit-ins — the has been signed, and Lewis is handed one of the ceremonial pens by President Lyndon Johnson. “It was the last day of the movement as I knew it,” Lewis says. In another scene, at President Obama’s inauguration in 2009, the newly sworn president hugs a teary-eyed Lewis and hands him a note that reads, “Because of, you, John.”

The March trilogy is being heralded as one of the most important graphic novels released in some time. It has . It is being . Its artwork was recently as “profoundly virtuosic art that measures up to the content of the characters, and the import of the story.”

It is, in short, a book that should be at top of anyone’s reading list. Salon recently spoke via phone with the three authors.

What do you guys hope readers take away from this story? 

Congressman John Lewis: It is our hope that when people read “March” — , , and — that they will understand that another generation of people, especially young people, were deeply inspired by the work of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and many others. So they studied the way of peace, the way of love, the way of nonviolence, and they stood up and they spoke up and they spoke out in a nonviolent fashion to change America forever. And [as a result] our country is a better country and we are better people. [These activists] didn’t become bitter or hostile. They didn’t hate. They understood what Dr. King said when he said, “Hate is too heavy a burden to bear.”

Although this is a trilogy about nonviolent action, these are very violent books. Time and again, readers see awful violence and bloodshed. Are there any readers who are too young for the books?

Andrew Aydin: It’s important to realize that the series actually grows with the reader. “March: Book One” is a great introduction for kids as young as eight or nine years old. But then they grow with the reader. Book Two is bigger, Book Three is even bigger. And they grow more violent and more confrontational. So, much like people started off, and everyone read “The Sorcerer’s Stone” for Harry Potter, Book One is meant to be that book that allows everybody to get introduced, and then each child can read [the others] whenever they’re ready.

What do you think is gained by telling this story in a graphic novel format? What power is achieved that perhaps can’t be conveyed with just words or even with moving pictures?

Nate Powell: I know “accessibility” is a term that’s kind of thrown around wantonly today, especially with talking about visual media. But I think that the strength of comics [is how they] really allow you to transcend those last barriers between a reader absorbing the information of an experience, and a reader being able to project themselves into the [experience of the] people about whom they’re reading.

I knew a bunch of this stuff to a certain extent before I started working on “March.” But it wasn’t until I really read [Lewis’s memoir] “,” and I was doing my own research, and then I was getting research from Andrew and Congressman Lewis …along the way, that it wasn’t until the drawing board, really processing all of this and putting it out in a way that I could absorb, that this really was something that at its core was being pushed along by 20-year-olds and 25-year-olds.

And so drawing that as a 31- or a 35-year-old, and [also] being a dad and having a four-year-old daughter and watching her grow into this world she’ll inherit, being able to envision her as a 15-year old or a 20-year-old with a sense of justice and fairness — these are concepts which are very clear to me as a dad and as a visual artist. So I think being able to identify with young people and…their capacity to change the world and shake things up. I think that’s the greatest strength.

Aydin: We’re [also] trying to talk to a generation who grew up on the Internet. They’re digital natives, and, essentially, they speak through sequential storytelling. I mean, a good comic-book panel is not that much different than a meme. And so if we’re going to speak to them, we have to do it in their language. And that’s why it’s important that we use comics.

Speaking of comics, Andrew, I’m fascinated by the connection between these “March” books and a comic book from the 1950s about Martin Luther King. Can you talk a bit about that connection?

Aydin: Sure. “March” was inspired by “.” I actually first heard about that comic from John Lewis, who told me that it played an important role in the movement. And so once he told me about that, it made me start thinking, “Well, why doesn’t John Lewis write his own comic book?” We knew “The Montgomery Story” was about the Montgomery bus boycott, but so much happened afterwards and I‘d never seen anything [about] that [portrayed] in comics form. I’d barely heard about it in school.

So, from that point, actually I went on to write my graduate thesis on the [“Montgomery Story”] comic book itself. It was the first long-form history that was ever written about it. And it’s how I found out Martin Luther King actually helped edit “Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story.” We found the letter with his edits. And it made me feel some kinship with Dr. King, actually — imagining him poring over a comic book script. But really the thing that was so interesting to us was how they used the comic book from December of 1957 to the mid-1960s. It ended up inspiring some of the earliest acts of civil disobedience of the movement. And so many of the young people read it. So what my graduate thesis ended up becoming was a proof of concept for us that a comic book could work in that way.

Representative Lewis, I follow you on social media, and you’re often posting with the hashtag “#goodtrouble.” For folks who aren’t familiar with that concept, what is “good trouble?”

Lewis: When I was growing up in rural Alabama, as a young child, about 50 miles from Montgomery, and we would visit the little town of Troy, or visit Montgomery or Tuskegee, I would see the signs that said, “WHITE MEN — COLORED MEN,” “WHITE WOMEN — COLORED WOMEN.” You’d go downtown on a Saturday afternoon to the theaters, and all of us little black children had to go upstairs to the balcony, and all of the little white children went downstairs to the first floor. And I would come home and say to my mother and father and my grandparents, “Why?” “Why this?” “Why that?” And they would just tell me, “That’s just the way it is! Don’t get in the way. Don’t cause trouble.”

I met Rosa Parks when I was 17. I met Dr. King when I was 18. These two individuals inspired me to find a way to get in the way, to get in trouble. So I got in good trouble, necessary trouble. And “March” is saying to young people and people not so young, “Going through history, you can get in trouble. But let it be good trouble, necessary trouble, to change things.” When you see something, and it’s not right, not fair, not just, you have to do something about it.

Scenes of President Obama’s first inauguration in 2009 are interspersed throughout these books. They form a kind of backbone for the story. Why did you choose that event for that purpose? 

Aydin: We chose to frame “March” around the inauguration of Barack Obama because it was such an important moment in the story of the Civil Rights Movement. It wasn’t the fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream, but it was a major down payment. And I think all too often when we tell the story of the movement, people say, “Well, what’s changed?” And the Congressman often says, “Well, come walk in my shoes and I will show you change.” And that’s what we were trying to do. We were trying to show that you should be hopeful, you should be optimistic, but you have to be consistent and persistent, because it’s not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year. It’s the struggle of a lifetime. And so you’re going to have to put in 40 or 50 years to reach that high-water mark.

Copyright : salon 
Link : http://www.salon.com/2016/08/08/john-lewis-marches-on-our-struggle-is-a-struggle-to-redeem-the-soul-of-america/

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