John Lewis and Civil Rights March on in a New Graphic Novel

This past weekend people gathered in the nation’s capitol to mark the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech that was part of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. Of the ten people who spoke on that day, only one remains—Congressman John Lewis. Congressman Lewis stood at the podium on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial last Saturday and delivered a speech not only reminding us of the past, but also calling on us to continue to march into the future towards a more tolerant, more united America. For John Lewis, the march goes on. In March: Book One, co-written by Congressman Lewis and Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell, the life and ideas of Congressman Lewis come powerfully alive in words and pictures for a whole new generation. Like Dr. King, Congressman Lewis knows how to preach, and March: Book One is an unforgettable sermon.


Ironically, Congressman Lewis credits a comic book—Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story (published in 1957 by The Fellowship of Reconciliation or “FOR” and which you can read here)—as the beginning of the long journey that leads to March: Book One. FOR activist James Lawson helped Lewis understand the ideas of non-violent resistance and peaceful political activism. “His words liberated me,” Lewis remembers in March. “I thought, this is it… this is the way out.” One of the most remarkable and important strengths of March is its ability to bring the fine details of the Civil Rights Movement—the people, places, and events that fall short of the “I Have a Dream” mountaintop or even Lewis’ own, almost mythic moment on Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama now known as on as “Bloody Sunday”—back to vivid life.

This is history not to be forgotten at dire risk to our democracy, and Powell’s pictures stick in your head in a way that dry textbooks don’t. When Lewis recalls February 27, 1960 as the date of “my first arrest, the first of many,” Powell depicts the darkness and uncertainty of that moment with dramatic visual darkness (image shown above), although you never lose the glimmer of hope that love will win out in the end. Similarly, when March touches upon the events of “Bloody Sunday” in its opening, Powell’s images capture the tension leading up to the chaos of violence that resulted in Lewis’ fractured skull. “May we have a word with the major?” the marchers ask politely, only to have bullhorns bark back, “There is no word to be had!” Powell puts the police’s sharp words within jagged, razor-sharp word bubbles that match the razor-sharp teeth of the police dogs straining against their leashes. All these small details add up to a larger effect of putting you right there, beside Lewis and his associates, feeling the fear, but somehow finding the courage within to march on.

March makes equally effective use of the graphic novel’s Proustian ability to travel through time through visual cues. One moment we’re on Pettus Bridge, the next we’re watching young “Bob” (Lewis’ family nickname) preaching to his parents’ chickens, the next we’re waiting with the elderly congressman in his office for the inauguration of America’s first African-American president. What ties all these moments together is the spirit of Congressman Lewis himself—proud, passionate, warm, loving, humble, and, above all, generous. Although he speaks of the “spirit of history taking hold” of his life and setting him on the “way of peace, the way of love, the way of non-violence,” John Lewis’ own indomitable spirit will inspire you to read his story and, perhaps, join his battle.

The final image of March: Book One is that of a cell phone ringing. Will we ignore it, or will we answer the call? “Almost 50 years ago, I gave a little blood on that bridge in Selma, Alabama, for the right to vote,” Congressman Lewis said last Saturday. “I am not going to stand by and let the Supreme Court take the right to vote away from us!” “So hang in there, keep the faith,” Lewis continued. “I got arrested 40 times during the ’60s, beaten, bloodied and unconscious. I’m not tired, I’m not weary. I’m not prepared to sit down and give up. I am ready to fight and continue to fight, and you must fight.” The seemingly endless “national dialogue on race” continues, the battle for equality rages on, and John Lewis—last man standing from that unforgettable day in Washington half a century ago—remains a tower of power in the middle of it all. March: Book One by its title alone promises more to come, not just because it’s a story of the past left incomplete, but also because it’s a story still being written today.

[Image: “February 27, 1960 was my first arrest, the first of many.” Panel from March: Book One, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell.]

[Many thanks to Top Shelf Productions for the image above from and a review copy of March: Book One, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell.]

Related Articles

How does alcohol affect your brain?

Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.

(Photo by Angie Garrett/Wikimedia Commons)
Mind & Brain
  • Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
  • Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
  • Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists sequence the genome of this threatened species

If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.

Surprising Science
  • A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
  • It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
  • Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.

If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.

Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.

elephant by Guillaume le Clerc

Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons

13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.

It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.

But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.

John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."

What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.

Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.

Why cauliflower is perfect for the keto diet

The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.

Purple cauliflower. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Surprising Science
  • The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
  • The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
  • It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
Keep reading Show less