This past weekend, the United States celebrated the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who in my estimation may be one of the single greatest figures our country has ever produced.
Of course, the United States America and its citizenry are very prone to elevate individuals rather than groups, to find figureheads to place far above the many people that make them the success that they are. The Civil Rights Era of the 1960’s was no different, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is specifically celebrated because he became something of the “face of the movement”. The truth, however, is that countless individuals contributed to the progress made during this historic time, and these individuals were as integral to the movement as Dr. King.One such individual is John Lewis, who decided to tell his story in a series of graphic novels entitled, MARCH. Broken into three books, MARCH frames the story of the 1960’s movement through Lewis’ own recollections during the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama. The framing device serves to tell the reader, “This is how far we’ve come, now hear the story of the first hard steps we took to get here.” It’s a great device and one that gives context to not only The Civil Rights Movement but all truly affective movements. The immediate gains are hard fought and may seem small, but they can pave the way for something far beyond expectation.
I find the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement to be one of the greatest accomplishments in the history of United States.The manner in which individuals rallied to enact tangible change without violence is a testament to the power of human dignity and the Christian ethic of pacifism. MARCH gives the reader a window into the complex but powerful methods necessary to face injustice in a way that is Christ-glorifying and hopefully in time truly affective.
I find it deeply troubling that neither my private school nor public school education spent adequate time on the civil rights movement. The founding fathers and America’s various imperialistic conquests seemed to be the stuff of exams and importance, whereas a peaceful movement that truly changed the culture from within was paid lip service, at best. I’m unsettled by this to the degree that I am forced to ask if there something amiss behind the very curriculum we are giving our youth, if it is designed to make them more militant and individualistic rather then pacifistic and communal (but that concern warrants a completely different post). And therein lies the power of MARCH; it forces me to look at not only at my present world but the past as well in a way that stimulates valuable questions about both. I ask, “why wasn’t really I taught this in school and how can I spread the word about this today?”
Of course, content without craft can be a dull thing. Fortunately, the craft and talent on display in MARCH is as exemplary as the behavior of the individuals it explores. These books are full of not only information but engaging art, vibrant design, and uncanny pacing given the amount of content included. The pages are dense from first frame to last; however, they also guide the reader smoothly so that the overall experience occurs at a surprising speed from start to finish. During each book, I expected to take a break but refused to do so; I kept turning the page to get to a “good stopping point” that I never reached. The whole thing was too compelling to pause. Despite each book being progressively longer, I was so deeply invested in these young people and the work that they were doing that I consistently desired to see their next act of valor or hard-earned success. Though I’m a notoriously slow reader, I read the entire series over the holiday weekend with Book 1 on Saturday, 2 on Sunday, and 3 on Monday; and I think that tackling one book a sitting each day is a great way to do it. It helps build the anticipation, gives one a chance to process in between each, and also makes the experience somewhat extended but still contained so that everything is fresh in the mind with each new volume. And the entire time, I was forced to ask myself not only how I would act in the shoes of individuals on both sides of the events.
The content and craft in all three books of MARCH come together with such success that I cannot help but recommend the work as broadly as possible. Even for those who do not enjoy the graphic novel format, this may be the book series that will give you appreciation and perhaps even affinity for the art form. This is some of the best comic-related work I have engaged; and were I a teacher of either literature or history, I would make it required reading.
MARCH was on my list of reading goals for 2018, but revisiting it during the weekend celebrating one of its many heroic figures may become an annual tradition.