A Review of March

Lila HazanSeptember 8, 2017Unity and DivisionMedia

March is a graphic memoir trilogy by John Lewis that allows new generations to empathize with and understand the struggle for racial equality in America.

John Lewis is a US congressman who was an activist during the American Civil Rights Movement (1954-1968). He worked alongside the major names of the movement such as Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X, participating in the Selma marches, Freedom Rides, and lunch counter sit-ins, among other demonstrations.

March is co-authored by Andrew Aydin, Lewis’s Digital Director and Policy Advisor. In addition to serving as a congressional aide, Aydin speaks at conventions and schools about script writing and the importance of Lewis’ memoir and the Rights movement.

Illustrations by Nate Powell really bring Lewis’s story to life. Powell is a cartoonist and graphic novelist who has worked on other well-known books, such The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan. His work has won a collection of awards, and he is the only cartoonist to receive the National Book Award.

Each book of the trilogy opens with a sequence of scenes from the 2008 induction of Barack Obama as the first African American in the US presidential office. These “chapters” act as a conclusion, marking the success of Lewis’s life work. The books then continue on to Lewis’s own struggles during the desegregation of America in the 1960s. Book One begins on his childhood farm in Alabama and depicts his early righteousness and advocacy for equality with farm chickens. As he grows throughout the trilogy, his initial striving for egalitarianism only goes on to inform his belief that peaceful protest made the Civil Rights movement successful.

In this type of graphic novel, there are three types of narration. The first is the heading — a series of dates at the beginning of every panel sequence to orient the reader with hard facts detailing the timeline and major events of the Rights movement, such as the Birmingham Church bombing. The second is Lewis’s personal narration as he looks back on the events, providing opinions and building on character relationships. The third type is the raw dialogue between characters, which provides much of the emotion of the story, as well as specific sound effects that emphasize the actions taken in every panel. Much of the writing is broad, brief enough to set up basic facts and emotional response, as is the case with most graphic novels.

One interesting point Lewis touches on is how segregation affected not just the marginalized population but the dynamics of civil organizations of mixed races. Lewis elaborates on the prejudice and resentment the African American community felt towards all white Americans, similar to the prejudice which they themselves faced.

Nate Powell does a fabulous job of portraying segregation in the 1960s by illustrating in monochrome, which underscores the separation between black and white people in the South. All of the pivotal comic panels use shadows as a way to communicate the gravity of every action. The simple drawing style allows John Lewis’s words to speak for themselves, and each detail included in the illustration becomes more significant. Powell’s drawings, action oriented and embellished with the classic sound effects of other comics, make stories of peaceful protest met with violence much more hard hitting.

I would rate this series five out of five stars, not only for providing an additional perspective but also for giving us deeper emotional insights into one of the biggest movements in US history. The clarity of narration and unique illustration style bring a new, more personal view to events that have been memorialized over time.

This memoir speaks not only as a historic recollection but also a guide for future rights movements. A movement for liberty should never be based on violence or prejudice but rather on comradery and striving for equality. The series is powerful both as an educational tool and as an insightful story about the powerful feeling of being part of something greater than yourself.

Much of my idea of the Civil Rights Movement has become rather depersonalized because of how events have been documented. However, March allows each event to become personal and impact me emotionally, closing the distance in time.

Lila Hazan is a 15-year-old high school sophomore. She lives in New York City. Her favorite things to do are write free form poetry and play soccer.