March is a vivid first-hand account of John Lewis' lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rooted in Lewis' personal story, it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement. Book one spans Lewis' youth in rural Alabama, his life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., the birth of the Nashville Student Movement, and their battle to tear down segregation through nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins, building to a stunning climax on the steps of City Hall. Book two takes place after the Nashville sit-in campaign. His commitment to justice and nonviolence has taken him from an Alabama sharecropper's farm to the halls of Congress, from a segregated schoolroom to the 1963 March on Washington D.C., and from receiving beatings from state troopers, to receiving the Medal of Freedom awarded to him by Barack Obama, the first African-American president. Book three goes back in time to when Lewis is 25 years old and is chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. To carry out their nonviolent revolution, Lewis and an army of young activists launch a series of innovative campaigns, including the Freedom Vote, Mississippi Freedom Summer, and an all-out battle for the soul of the Democratic Party waged live on national television.
His story is wrapped around his 2009 attendance to the inauguration of President Obama. Poignantly, it shows how far we have come as a country, overcoming institutional racism to elect a black president.
Sadly, it's a reminder of how we are now slipping backwards.
published: Book One 2013, Book Two 2015, Book Three 2016
format: 560 pages over three paperback books
acquired: in March
read: Apr 15-18
John Lewis was one of the big six nonviolent civil rights leaders in the 1960's. He was by far the youngest, only in his early 20's when he became the leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC. But on March 7, 1965, he ended up, without the SNCC, leading the march from Selma, Alabama to the state capital that provoked Bloody Sunday. Just outside Selma, on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Alabama state police waited and then attacked the marchers with billy clubs in front of TV cameras. They were so brutal that Lewis ended up with a cracked skull. Public outrage over the event gave Lyndon Johnson the necessary momentum to push through the Voting Rights Act. Lewis did a lot of things, but literally getting his head cracked that day would be his most important.
Recommended because it's well done, and an amazing and moving story, and because we forget how deep the blind racism in the country was, and, apparently still is. And because of the insight into other civil rights leaders and some of the other leaders of the era. I think what struck me was how alone Lewis was, especially the night he was attacked and later was left by himself in a hospital bed, overnight, in pain. He would give an important speech the next day.
Setting his story within the frame of the day of Barack Obama's inauguration is such a powerful counterpoint that it gave me the shivers. Thinking about his story in terms of what's happening in this country now makes me want to cry.
I loved this story! I was looking for a book to hold my attention (it's been hard to focus and nothing I was reading was doing it for me), and this did the job, and more! It engaged my emotions, my sense of history, and my need to just hear a really good, edge-of-the-seat story. It's supposedly a young adult comic book series, but it appealed to me, just because I had never heard a first-person narrative of the Civil Rights Movement told in such a way: from the beginning of the movement, to the Inauguration of the first African-American President of the United States.
If you made the mistake of thinking Mr. John Lewis was just some silly old man who took it into his head to sit down on the floor of the House of Representatives for some silly protest against gun violence, you seriously need to reconsider his role in history, and reading this book, and the whole trilogy of "March," is a good place to begin. Keep in mind that we ignore history at our peril.