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[personal profile] oyceter
This is John Lewis' memoir of his time in SNCC during the Civil Rights Movement, co-written with Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell.

It begins with Lewis preparing for the 2009 inauguration, and the contrast between that and the 1960s Jim Crow era was probably much more uplifting just a few months ago. As things are today, the book feels more necessary than ever. It's not as though the work stopped after the Voting Rights Act, after Obama's election, after anything, but there is so much more of it now.

Part of me wishes I had at least one experience of reading this before the election, with Obama still president, because those flashes to his inauguration in the comic, the hope that is so tangible, all of it is painful to read now.

I've known the general story of the Civil Rights Movement for almost as long as I can remember, having grown up reading those Scholastic biographies of Martin Luther King, Jr. And I've learned much more about it later on, from how much community organization was going on to the many different groups and philosophies involved. That said, I found this comic to be a valuable addition, particularly the first-person narrative and the way the black-and-white illustrations grab you.

The three volumes cover all the big points up through the signing of the Voting Rights Act, from the lunch counter sit-ins to the bus boycotts to Freedom Summer and Selma and the March on Washington, but it's the little details within the big moments that make the comic so good. Ones that particularly struck me were the students who couldn't make it through the nonviolence training or the fear of being killed—I feel it's always so easy for people to say, "If I were there, I would have marched or protested or volunteered," but to be honest, I'm not sure I would have been brave enough, particularly as a college student. The stories of all the people who were killed while helping are pretty chilling, and I'm glad that the authors and artist make it very clear how dangerous it was and how the activists there didn't know if they would make it through or not.

Other moments: one of the people running the lunch counters shutting it down and fumigating it with the protesters still inside; the ways people still resisted even while they were in jail; how the activists set up check ins; and through it all, just how violent the pushback was to every single tiny step. I keep returning to that after reading all the justifications for police violence on the protesters today and how quickly just saying "no" becomes a reason to beat you down. It's not that I didn't know, but seeing it illustrated brings it home in a very particular way.

My one complaint is that I wish Lewis had gone more into how the movement started to splinter, how some people began to advocate for physically fighting back, or the increasing divide between SNCC and the SCLC and other organizations. Lewis hews to his nonviolent philosophy here while also trying to portray other people's points of view without demonizing them. I think his attempt to walk the line of upholding nonviolent resistance without condemning those who thought he sold out makes those parts a little too abstract; without the dialogue and arguments and examples of what happened in those clashes of philosophy, much of the power of the comic is lost.

I also wish he had gone into more detail because I would have found it extremely helpful for right now, when it feels like there's a different answer or strategy every day, and as a roadmap for making change with a large coalition of groups who frequently don't see eye to eye.

All in all, very worth reading, and I only wish it were longer and had more details about how to deal with splintering coalitions.

(no subject)

Tue, Feb. 14th, 2017 07:14 am (UTC)
lilacsigil: 12 Apostles rocks, text "Rock On" (12 Apostles)
Posted by [personal profile] lilacsigil
I loved these comics - the art in the violent sections was so focused on the experiences of the activists and their emotions and facial expressions, and not the people committing the violence, who are the ones you can see most clearly in photos of the time. It taught me a lot about American history, which it shouldn't have had to, as I studied a history unit about this exact time period and the Civil Rights movement was only briefly mentioned in the context of Kennedy's presidency.

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Tue, Feb. 14th, 2017 09:18 pm (UTC)
oracne: turtle (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] oracne
I need to read this!

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