This graphic novel, a gift from my dear friend, Kate, is a fabulous introduction to the Civil Rights Movement for those too young to tackle Taylor Branch's trilogy. Nate Powell is responsible for the dramatic graphics, while Andrew Aydin is the co-writer with Lewis. It's not a dry history. Instead, it is Lewis's personal story which makes it far more powerful.
Personal stories, truthful ones, are the way we open ourselves and learn each other's truths, the way we find our common ground.
The authors use the device of Obama's inauguration day on 20 January 2009. A woman has come from Atlanta with her two small boys for the inauguration and has brought them to Lewis's office to show it to him. Although he is on his way to the ceremony, Lewis takes the time to show them some of the mementoes in his office, one of which leads him to tell them about his childhood on a farm in Alabama.
This is Book 1. It goes up to the lunch counter sit-ins, ending with Martin Luther King, Jr. coming to Nashville to support Lewis's group. Of course I have vivid memories of the events described here. One thing I'd forgotten was how unsupportive the older generation of African-Americans were of the boycotts and sit-ins. Lewis portrays them as comfortable with the status quo and willing to accept partial solutions.
I'm sure he's right, but I also remember real concerns about giving up the separate-but-equal facilities. Just as single-sex schools allowed girls to learn in an environment where they aren't being pummeled by the social mandate to not outshine the boys, schools were a safe—if deficient—haven for youngsters of color. Similarly, many today still mourn the loss of the thriving Black centers of culture that faded away after integration.
Not that anyone wants to go back. The graphic novel format is especially effective at conveying the overt and hateful racism of the time. Though I occasionally wonder if that wouldn't be better than today's pervasive if covert racism—opposing commonsense laws simply because a Black president signed them—these pictures remind me of how much worse it was.
I look forward to the rest of the books in the series and hope they are widely read.