Congressman John Lewis
Congressman John Lewis is an American icon, one of the key figures of the civil rights movement. 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, and from receiving beatings from state troopers to receiving the Medal of Freedom from the first African-American president.
Follett sat down with Congressman Lewis as he shared some inspirational thoughts behind his decision to bring his remarkable story to new generations. March, a graphic novel trilogy, in collaboration with co-writer Andrew Aydin and New York Times best-selling artist Nate Powell (winner of the Eisner Award and LA Times Book Prize finalist for Swallow Me Whole) 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 John 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.
Get your copy of March: Book One today
View the full list of Behind the Book interviews in our archive.
Follett: Why is your story important for students today?
Congressman John Lewis: My story is a story of faith. It is a story not just for my generation, but it’s a story for this generation to understand that in another time and another period young people, students, high school students, elementary school students, college students, find a way to get in the way. We saw segregation, we saw racial discrimination, and we didn’t like it. We have been inspired by Rosa Parks, by Martin Luther King, Jr., by President Kennedy. We started sitting in, standing in, going on that freedom ride or march. Marching.
Follett: Why did you choose a graphic novel format for March?
Congressman John Lewis:
One of my staff people came to me over five years ago and said, “Congressman, you should write a comic book.” He was going to go to Comic Con. Some of the staffers started laughing about him, and I said, “you shouldn’t laugh. It was a comic book that inspired me, inspired so many other people.” And then he came back again and said to me, “Congressman, you should write a comic book.” I told him “well, maybe.” And finally I said to him, “if you do it with me, I will do it.” That was more than five years ago.
Follett: Can you give us a sneak peek into book two?
Congressman John Lewis: Book Two will be so dramatic. It will dramatize the story from Selma to Montgomery. The march for the right to vote. People in the south could not register to vote.
People of color stood in immoveable lines. It would also tell the story of the march on Washington, when I was a younger speaker at the age of twenty-three where I spoke of Dr. King and others. It would tell the story of when the march was all over, President Kennedy invited us down to the White House. He was not that supportive of the march, but when it was all over, he was so pleased and so proud that the march was going so well. He stood in the door of the Oval Office just beaming like a proud father, and he said, “you did a good job, you did a good job.” And when he got to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. he said, “and you had a dream.” That was my last time seeing President Kennedy.
Follett: Why should teachers use your series as a teaching tool?
Congressman John Lewis: It is important for each and every one of us to understand history. So just maybe, just maybe, we won’t repeat some of our dark past. That we will learn from our history, learn from our past, and move in a different direction, in a better direction. And maybe here in America that if we get it right and do it right, we can emerge as a model for the rest of the world.
Teachers should adopt this little book as a guide to explain, to get people to understand that you have to use the rights. If not, you can lose them. You have to exercise the right. The right to participate. The right to speak up. To speak out. I call it the right to make some noise. The right to get in the way, or to get in trouble, some good trouble, necessary trouble.
Follett: Any final thoughts?
Congressman John Lewis: As students, as adults, as citizens of America, as citizens of the world, this book is saying never give up. Never give in. Never lose faith. Keep the faith – and keep your eyes on the prize to create a beloved America and a beloved world.