Growing up, I didn’t learn much about the civil rights movement beyond the dates, important events, and of course what was achieved. It was only as a librarian, when I started to delve into the topic so we could share it with our students, that I pored over primary source photos, read news accounts, and delved into books about the time. This deeper understanding of the era made me realize how scary it was for the people involved. It wasn’t just about protesting and trying to get their voices heard, because the people who pushed and fought and won risked so much. Living in the South during this time was a frightening place for any Black person who tried to stand up for themselves or was even perceived as stepping over the line, as was seen in the horrific kidnapping and murder of young Emmett Till.
March: Book One
By Congressman John Lewis & Andrew Aydin. Illustrated by Nate Powell
Top Shelf Productions, $14.95
Recommended for ages 11+
March: Book One opens with a scene of protestors marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which was on the famed March from Selma to Montgomery, led by John Lewis and Hosea Williams. As the protestors look on to see the police in front of them, they know that the March will turn ugly, and they start praying as the police advance and brutally beat the protestors.
The book suddenly leaves us to the almost present day. Readers watch as Congressman John Lewis gets up on John 20, 2009. It’s an important day… and readers aren’t given any extra clues beyond the date. But just a bit of knowledge of recent history will trigger the date as the swearing in of President Barack Obama as the President of the United States of America. Readers can sense the urgency and the importance of the day. And as John Lewis’s story unfolds in the following pages, it’s obvious why this must have been an especially momentous day for him.
The story is told as a story within a story. John Lewis tells his story to two young black boys who are visiting Washington D.C. for the inauguration. Lewis begins with his childhood, growing up on a farm down South and knowing he was destined for something other than life as a farmer. He tells of a memorable trip to visit his uncle in Ohio, describing the tense road trip, as they went from one southern city to the next, praying they didn’t go to the wrong place. Here the artwork visually tells the story as we see the sweat pouring down their faces and the anxiousness permeates their expressions.
But Lewis quickly advances to his years in college, where he meets Jim Lawson, who spearheaded the nonviolent movement in Nashville. His friendship with Lawson forever changed the course of Lewis’s life. The book tells of how the students trained to sit during a protest and allow themselves to be taunted, even beaten, and not react. Lewis describes the lunch counter sit-ins and how they marched to the Mayor in City Hall so that segregation at the lunch counters would end.
Sadly, that’s where the book ends.
The book’s artwork adds layers to the story. Told in black and white, the artwork captures the intensity of the time. It’s worth the reader’s time to pause and really study the artwork to gain a deeper understanding of the time period.
This book would be a wonderful addition to any library, private, public, or school. It would especially enhance any curriculum unit on the Civil Rights Movement. I know that much of our Language Arts Curriculum is changing this year, but I do hope they will find room to include this. If not, I’m hoping some of our social studies staff will be bold enough to share this with their students as they cover the Civil Rights Era.
This review is based on a complimentary copy supplied by the publisher. All images copyright © Top Shelf Production.