When he was fifteen years old and living in rural Alabama, U.S. Representative John Lewis was given a comic book called Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story. This ten cent comic introduced the young man to the power of the philosophy and the discipline of nonviolence in the Civil Rights Movement.
Sixty years later, after decades of activism, community organizing, and public service, John Lewis won the National Book Award for his comic book, March.
Co-written by his Policy Advisor Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell, John Lewis’ March is an autobiographical comic telling the story of the Civil Rights Movement from Lewis’ perspective. Book One opens in 1965 with a 25 year-old John Lewis standing on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama with fellow peaceful civil rights activists. When the protesters refuse an order from Alabama State Troopers to end the march, the troopers attack them, beating them and dousing them with tear gas. The story jumps to January 20th, 2009, with Lewis, now a U.S. Congressman, waking up and preparing for the first inauguration of Barack Obama.
Continuing to jump back and forth through time, we learn of Lewis’ involvement in many of the most important moments in Civil Rights history. Lunch counter sit-ins. The Freedom Riders desegregation demonstrations. The 1964 Civil Rights Act. The Freedom Vote. Mississippi Freedom Summer. And of course the Selma to Montgomery marches to exercise the constitutional right of all citizens to vote.
March: Book One received an “Author Honor” from the Coretta Scott King Book Awards and became the first graphic novel to win a Robert F. Kennedy Book Award. Book Two was awarded the Eisner Award. Book Three won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. It was the first graphic novel to ever receive a National Book Award.
On the publication of Book One, Lewis was asked by Entertainment Weekly about his motivations to fight for change. “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to do something about it.”