Reviews provided by Syndetics
Kirkus Book Review
Heroism and steadiness of purpose continue to light up Lewis' frank, harrowing account of the civil rights movement's climactic dayshere, from cafeteria sit-ins in Nashville to the March on Washington.As in the opener, Powell's dark, monochrome ink-and-wash scenes add further drama to already-dramatic events. Interspersed in Aydin's script with flashes forward to President Barack Obama's 2009 inauguration, Lewis' first-person account begins with small-scale protests and goes on to cover his experiences as a Freedom Rider amid escalating violence in the South, his many arrests, and his involvement in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee's formation and later internal strife. With the expectation that readers will already have a general grasp of the struggle's course, he doesn't try for a comprehensive overview but offers personal memories and insightsrecalling, for instance, Martin Luther King Jr.'s weak refusal to join the Freedom Riders and, with respect, dismissing Malcolm X: "I never felt he was a part of the movement." This middle volume builds to the fiery manifesto the 23-year-old Lewis delivered just before Dr. King's "I have a dream" speech and closes with the September 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. The contrast between the dignified marchers and the vicious, hate-filled actions and expressions of their tormentors will leave a deep impression on readers. Lewis' commitment to nonviolentbut far from unimpassionedprotest will leave a deeper one. Backmatter includes the original draft of Lewis' speech. "We're gonna march"oh, yes. (Graphic memoir. 11 up) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
New York Times Book Review
"BLACK LIVES matter" is the cry of the new civil rights movement, a slogan so broadly and willfully misunderstood that marchers often shout an addendum: "This is what democracy looks like." The implication is that Americans have forgotten, and it just might be true. In the half century since mass protest ended Jim Crow and expanded the franchise to millions, the civil rights legacy has become a sort of catechism. Its images of nonviolent confrontation have been blurred into a vision of dignified compliance, and its contentious activism into the predestined evolution of the American Way. The result is a picture of democracy domesticated by remembrance, fixed as the granite likeness of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington's West Potomac Park. There are few people better qualified to remind us of what democracy really looks like than John Lewis, the Georgia congressman, civil rights icon and, most recently, the author, with the writer Andrew Aydin and the artist Nate Powell, of a three-part graphic memoir called "March." A galvanizing account of his coming-ofage in the movement, it's a capsule lesson in courage of conscience, a story that inspires without moralizing or simplifying in hindsight. The trilogy's title is season, setting and imperative: "March" begins and draws to a close with scenes from the march Lewis led in Selma, Ala., on March 7, 1965, forever known as "Bloody Sunday" after state troopers and the local police attacked the nonviolent protesters. The opening panels depict the marchers gathered at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, then move from their tense, prayerful faces to the phalanx of billy clubs and white helmets on the opposite bank. Lewis, then only 25, was beaten that day; five months later, Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act. The three volumes of "March" (the second won an Eisner Award at Comic-Con, and the third was a finalist for this year's National Book Award for young people's literature) aren't just a record of Lewis's activism but one of its brilliant examples, designed to help new generations of readers visualize the possibilities of political engagement. The model is "Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story," a 16-page comic about the Montgomery bus boycott that begins with a young Martin Luther King Jr. in church. Like most effective lessons, "March" is the story of an education, an introduction to the difficult art of principled dissent - or, as Lewis has called it, "necessary trouble." The three books recount major events of the civil rights movement from Lewis's position as a leader and later the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. The first volume encompasses his childhood in rural Alabama, his religious education and his involvement with the sitins protesting Nashville's segregated businesses. After enduring harassment, beatings and incarceration, the students triumph. From their efforts emerges SNCC. Later victories come at a high cost. Book 2 centers on the freedom rides protesting segregation in interstate transportation, which are met with bombings, bus-burnings, mob attacks and the mass imprisonment of riders at Mississippi's state penitentiary, Parchman Farm. Danger impels division: When Dr. King declines to join SNCC organizers on the buses, some mock him by calling him "de lawd." Backstage at the 1963 March on Washington, Lewis, the event's youngest and most radical speaker, is criticized for questioning the proposed civil rights legislation. Lewis's address, so often eclipsed by King's, punctuates the second volume, recasting this capstone event for a generation less certain of the endurance of its message . "March" is more movement blueprint than civil rights monument, avoiding the Old Testament spectacle of good versus evil in favor of the clashing visions and fractious passions of those pledged to the same fight. As in Ava DuVernay's film "Selma," the spotlight is on strategic thinking and organization politics - the choreography behind moments whose seminal status has become, at least for present-day figures whose activism is measured by its yardstick, a hindrance. The graphic-novel genre proves to be the perfect means of showing us the friction at the movement's seams. Vivid and dynamic, yet easily accommodating political nuance, this form lends itself to depicting the complex confrontations and negotiations of a wide range of individuals. Nate Powell's illustrations shine in the testimony of Fannie Lou Hamer, a Mississippi sharecropper who was arrested, beaten and tortured by the police after attempting to register to vote. Hamer's speech at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City serves as the fulcrum for the third volume's account of the freedom summer. She was attending as a leader of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, organized to challenge the state's segregated delegation for its seats. Her nationally televised address, confidently delivered as an indictment of America's character, was so alarming to Lyndon Johnson that he interrupted the broadcast with an improvised news conference. Hamer's speech zigzags like a thunderbolt across the panels as they sketch the shocked audiences: journalists in the convention ballroom, ordinary families watching at home, President Johnson plotting his countermove from the Oval Office. It's hard to imagine a better medium for representing a movement so defined by its rapid and sophisticated manipulation of publicity. In a year when black demonstrators have been beaten at rallies for Donald Trump and denounced for interrupting Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, the emphasis on Hamer and the Freedom Democratic Party resonates. While "March" doesn't extend beyond its triumphal framing story, the morning of Barack Obama's first inauguration, it speaks to an era defined by #BlackLivesMatter, started on Twitter by Opal Tometi, Patrisse Cullors and Alicia Garza. Emphasizing disruption, decentralization and cooperation over the mythic ascent of heroic leaders, this graphic novel's presentation of civil rights is startlingly contemporary. Lewis may be one of the "great men" of the movement, but his memoir is humble and generous, carving out much of its space for less well-known organizers, figures like Jim Lawson, Ella Baker and Diane Nash. Young people deserve a future in which they can conceive of their own participation, and this requires a past that, however long the shadow of its achievements, begins at their scale. At their best, graphic novels can grant such permission to aspire. In Marjane Satrapi's "Persepolis," the seed of possibility is planted when the artist, still a bookish girl, fashions herself as "the last prophet," destined to end inequality and the suffering of the elderly. (Her grandmother becomes her first disciple.) From this child's act of fantasy, as yet safeguarded from the world's realities, emerges the coming history and the woman who lives to tell it. So, in "March," John Lewis's career is born from a daydream. Tasked with caring for the family chickens, he appoints himself their spiritual guardian - baptizing them, rescuing them from harm, boycotting Sunday chicken dinners and presiding over funerals when the old hens die. Preaching to the flock from his first Bible, he finds the voice that leads him to his vocation, one he still practices today. It's a harbinger of his exemplary life in service, glimpsed in the solitude of a child's intrepid mind. May generations of young readers find the same inspiration in "March." ? The story of an education, an introduction to the difficult art of principled dissent. Julian LUCAS is the associate editor of Cabinet magazine.