I try to give myself a healthy reading diet, and part of that diet is books from the point of view of people who do not experience the world the same way my privilege as a cis white woman allows. When I picked up March: Book One it felt in many ways a basic history, an introduction to world that I was already relatively familiar with, even though it was not my own. If Book One is a primer then Book Two is a call to arms which leads to Book Three a rallying cry to continue the work of The Movement.
In these astonishing works John Lewis and his collaborators make accessible for all who care to listen what was truly on the line with the movement for Civil Rights in the first half of the 1960s. It may be tempting to think of “the Civil Rights Movement” as a single time in a single place, but what Congressman Lewis is teaching us here is that the truly nonviolent movement, which is the only way for a successful movement to his mind, came from many quarters and took place over years (and decades), and was and is the responsibility of all of us.
I was knocked flat by the powerful souls who put their very lives on the line for what they believed, what they knew to be true. In working with his co-writer (and staffer) Andrew Aydin, and trusting those words with “a great artist …who can make the words sing” in Nate Powell we are gifted with a combined work that is akin to sitting through an amazing sermon: you learn, you grow, and you feel uplifted and called to action.
Book Two focuses on the years 1960-1963, specifically on the Freedom Summer and Freedom Rides campaign. Book Three picks up in 1963, specifically the firebombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama on September 15, 1963 and culminates with the Selma marches and the passage of the Voting Rights Act. There are few events that matter as much to the situation we find the United States in here in 2017 than the gutting of the Voting Rights Act in the summer of 2013.
Congressman Lewis and his works remain, unfortunately, as relevant as ever. He was a leader of the #nobillnobreak sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives last summer to get a vote on gun legislation and it is in the shadow of his nonviolent legacy with SNCC that brave men and women today continue the work of The Movement. You need look no further than Colin Kaepernick and Jesse Williams and the countless others who continue to fight for full citizenship for all Americans. It reminds me to fight harder for what I know is right, and to not let my anger push me to act in a way that would not make Representative Lewis proud. Now we need courage, we need to emulate John Lewis and believe in peaceful protest and assertiveness.
There are many reasons this book won the National Book Award. Go read these, now.