Georgia Congressman John Lewis says he was initially hesitant about turning his story of becoming a leader in the Civil Rights movement into a graphic novel.
“But I’m glad we did it; now there are people young, and not so young, reading it all over,” said Lewis, who was on LSU’s campus Tuesday to sign copies of “ March: Book One .”
The book, which is the first in a trilogy, serves as a unique early-life memoir for Lewis, 74, and it’s detailed through 121 pages of sharply drawn black and white images, like a comic book with the color drained from it.
Lewis, the son of Alabama sharecroppers, is the only speaker from the 1963 March on Washington still living. “March” recounts stories from his youth, meeting the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his participation in lunch counter sit-ins to protest segregation.
“The actions of Rosa Parks, the words and leadership of Martin Luther King Jr., inspired me to find a way to get in the way,” the 2011 Medal of Freedom recipient said.
Lewis is scheduled to lead a rally on Southern University’s Baton Rouge campus Wednesday to encourage early voting among students in this year’s Congressional and local elections. Early voting runs through Oct. 28. The primary is Nov. 4, and runoffs, as needed in races where no candidate secures more than 50 percent of the vote, will be Dec. 6.
In the LSU campus bookstore, Lewis was greeted by a steady stream of students — most of them at least 50 years younger than him and decades removed from the segregation he fought against.
Corey Prevost, an LSU senior from New Orleans, stretched his hand out over his copy of the book and told Lewis it would be an honor to shake his hand. “You’re really a role model for me,” he said.
Others streamed through, remarking at Lewis’ historical accomplishments. He chatted with them about topics ranging from LSU’s campus to the Selma to Montgomery Civil Rights marches.
Annie Boudreaux, a sophomore from Rayne, said she had recently studied segregation and Jim Crow in history class.
“It’s amazing to meet someone who lived through all he did,” she said. “Having this encounter and this book is something I’ll appreciate for a long time.”
The book was co-written by Lewis staffer Andrew Aydin, who Lewis credits with the idea for the comic-book-style telling of his past, and illustrated by graphic novelist Nate Powell.
After signing dozens of copies of “March,” Lewis led a presentation for more than 500 students at LSU’s Student Union on Tuesday night.
Lewis regaled students with stories of working on the farm in rural Alabama, which is also featured in the book.
“You’re gifted but you don’t know anything about raising chickens,” Lewis said. “On this farm, it was my responsibility to care for the chickens.”
He told the students of his chance encounter of meeting King. At age 17, Lewis wrote to King, without his family’s knowledge. Lewis told him he had applied to but didn’t receive a response from then-known as Troy State College. “I never heard a word from the college,” Lewis said.
King told him to come to Montgomery, Alabama, to meet with him.
Lewis went on to become one of the first Freedom Riders, protestors who integrated interstate buses.
“In 1961, the year that President Barack Obama was born, black people and white people couldn’t sit next to each other on a Greyhound bus,” he said.
Lewis was arrested more than 40 times during the Civil Rights movement. He’s been arrested five more since entering Congress in 1987 for demonstrating to bring attention to issues ranging immigrant reform to genocide in Sudan.
“I may get arrested some more,” he told the crowd at LSU. “But when you see something that’s not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation.”
The “March” trilogy tells many of the stories Lewis recounted to the students. Lewis said he’s pushing for a fourth book to continue the story.
Aydin said the idea for the comic book came about as a coincidence, but he set out to convince Lewis that the project could teach future generations.
Aydin was talking about going to a comic book convention, and some co-workers started teasing him. Someone chimed in, saying that comic books shouldn’t be ashamed of.
“That voice was John Lewis standing up for me,” Aydin said.
Lewis told him about an important comic book during the Civil Rights movement that Aydin later researched and found was edited by King.
“I knew then what we were doing was important,” Aydin said of the five-year process.