The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a major feat in creating a just society for many marginalized people. Along the way to this monumental change for America, Black people staged many different kinds of protests. From boycotts to sit-ins, Black Americans took the risk of discrimination of all forms, including being blackballed to being killed, in order to combat a long held system of oppression in America. March is a story of one man’s journey throughout this process and the people he came into contact with. It also highlights some of the struggles faced within and outside of the Black activist community in the years leading up to the Civil Rights Act. For these reasons, and more, I decided to do a Comic Love article on this pivotal story.
I love many things about March. It explores the life of one man, Congressman John Lewis, from his childhood to his engagement in anti-racist activism. From raising and loving chickens, to repeated incarceration after sit-ins, John had a love for life but also an enduring spirit of freedom that could not be fully quelled by the racism of the 50s and 60s. He experienced the heartbreak of segregation, the joys of legal intervention in racism, and the recognition that the fight was far from over even after schools were formally integrated starting in 1955.
This story is important because it uses a medium for socially marginalized people to discuss the very real history of a marginalized group in America. March does an excellent job chronicling history, creating an important framework for discussing John Lewis and his life, but also the unfolding events around America. This graphic novel discusses the Montgomery Bus Boycott and Martin Luther King’s growing and popular activism. It touches on the involvement of White anti-racist activists during the Civil Rights Movement. It’s amazing that one volume of a story so aptly captures the unfolding of the fight for some semblance of equality during the 20th century.
Reading March was incredibly powerful and evocative for me. There were a few moments where I found it hard to hold back tears. While the story has its historical framework, it’s hard not to see how many similar events are still unfolding today. There may not necessarily be dogs and fire hydrants, but police are still stomping on the heads of Black activists. Black people are still being unjustly killed by the police. White people often take it upon themselves to use any manner of language with unfortunately little recourse much of the time. While the creation of the Civil Rights Act was a major spearhead in the fight for equal rights, so many injustices still exist today.
This graphic novel reflects the pain of its setting as well as the pain of today. It’s a reminder that we are still traveling the dark tunnel of fighting oppression to see the light of equity, which sadly sometimes feels beyond the reach of even my young generation. I value this story because it’s real, it’s visceral. Yet, I fear that because of my connection to Blackness, its message may fall on obstinate ears. I am not fully sure if this is cynicism or realism or feeling jaded by the American social and political climate. My emotional reaction may be because I grew up with a grandfather who was born in the 30s and was alive and well in the South to see the injustices he may not have felt he could realistically fight.
As heartbreaking as the story is, March also illuminates the activism that was alive and well around the first half of the 20th century. While I knew much of this growing up, it’s still interesting to see how John Lewis was involved in the Civil Rights movement, the growth of the sit-ins that were a vital element of the movement, and the difficulties of creating change in a world that vehemently did not want it I highly recommend this story, as it is an important look at a dark point in our history that still extends its shadow to the present. Just, you know, probably read something a bit lighthearted after.
Both March: Book One and March: Book two are available on Comixology.