The long road to integration
MANY of us in Malaysia would not be familiar with US Congressman John Lewis or the American Civil Rights Movement that he led to end racial segregation and discrimination against African Americans.
To be honest, I had never heard of Lewis before picking up this graphic novel.
But I was pleasantly surprised that, despite not knowing much about the subject matter, March remained a compelling and interesting read.
It is easy to see why Lewis chose to use the graphic novel as a medium to tell his story. Artist Nate Powell effectively illustrates the time Lewis lived in where racial segregation was common. Even without any colour, Powell’s simple lines, grey tones and brush strokes effectively draw readers into the book.
The first half is written like a traditional autobiography as it explores different parts of Lewis’ life.
The pace is kept slow as it explores his childhood in rural Alabama where his sharecropper parents led a simple life for fear of reprisal should they challenge the social order.
Even at a young age, Lewis was often at odds with authority. Forming a close bond with the chickens reared on the farm, Lewis often protested when the birds were destined for the dinner table.
Aspiring to be a preacher, Lewis understood the value of a good education. Often he would sneak away to school against his parents’ wishes when it was time to help during harvesting and planting seasons.
The story’s pace picks up as Lewis ages and he progresses through college. There he eventually meets key influential leaders of the civil rights movement such as Dr Martin Luther King, Jr whose speech inspires Lewis to take up the cause against racial segregation. Lewis eventually joins the Nashville Student Movement to battle segregation by way of non-violent activism.
It certainly is a fascinating read, offering a close look at how the civil rights movement protested without the use of force and how Lewis and his compatriots prepared themselves for the resistance and abuse they expected to face in public.
The movement really captures your attention when Lewis and his compatriots take to the streets, staging sit-ins at diners and department stores in Nashville where they were refused service. It is admirable how they endure a lot of verbal and physical abuse and even put up with being arrested without doing anything wrong.
It is uplifting to see how their peaceful protests ultimately led to a positive change on the steps of City Hall and forever changed the way Americans viewed each other.
The only problem I had with the book is that the story seems to end abruptly. While I understand that this is the first book of a trilogy, I was still left craving more.
Fortunately, I won’t have to wait long to continue Lewis’ story as the second volume of March is due out in January.