Congressman John Lewis comes to Rutgers for book talk on 'March' trilogy
Walking into Nicholas Hall to a standing ovation of more than 500 students, staff and community members, Georgia Congressman John Lewis (D-5) along with his two collaborators Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell sat down to talk about their graphic novel trilogy, “March."
The series recounts Lewis’ life during the Civil Rights Movement and gives examples of some activities and events Lewis participated in and attended. According to the New York Times, the trilogy is “designed to help new generations of readers visualize the possibilities of political engagement.”
The event started with Ruth B. Mandel, the director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics, offering a welcome greeting.
“This event is specifically for you, the students, who must lead our future. And today, the students in our audience will have the privilege to ask questions to our esteemed guests,” Mandel said.
She said this was the second time Eagleton had the honor of hosting John Lewis, and that he was returning because he “is a man on a mission,” to ensure that Americans of every generation, particularly those too young to witness the Civil Rights Movement at its peak, learn about, acknowledge and confront the struggle to overcome the blight of slavery.
Rutgers—New Brunswick Chancellor Richard L. Edwards took the stage next to introduce Lewis, Aydin and Powell. When the three took the stage, they took turns talking about their roles in the publication of the series, with Lewis speaking first, followed by Aydin and Powell.
Lewis spoke about growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, where he aspired to be a minister and would host gatherings on his family’s farm and preach to chickens, who he joked were better listeners than some of his colleagues in Washington, D.C. now.
Lewis changed the subject to how he grew up witnessing “Whites Only” and “Blacks Only” signs across his hometown, and when he asked his parents or grandparents why, he was told that was just the way it is, and not to question it or get into trouble. Then, in 1955, Lewis heard of Rosa Parks and heard the words of Martin Luther King Jr.
“The actions of Rosa Parks, the words and leadership of Martin Luther King inspired me to find a way to get in the way, to get in trouble, what I call ‘good trouble.’ And I’ve been getting into trouble since then,” Lewis said.
Lewis described the first time he got arrested for protesting during a sit-in. He said that after multiple sit-ins, the police told Lewis and the group he was with that if they did it one more time, they would be arrested. As a result, Lewis went out and bought a used suit so that he would look “fresh” when he was arrested.
He said he was arrested 40 times before he joined Congress and another five times since he has represented Georgia. He also said he will most likely be arrested again, for something.
Aydin was the one who brought the idea of creating a graphic novel to Lewis, he said. Aydin is the digital director and policy advisor for Lewis and served as the press secretary for his 2008 reelection campaign.
Lewis told Aydin about a comic book that was popular during the Civil Rights era, and when Aydin went home to research it, was inspired to do something similar to tell Lewis’ story to reach young people and educate them on the Civil Rights Movement.
The project began in 2008 with long nights of Lewis and Aydin on the phone discussing ideas and doing research, and eventually, Lewis and Aydin partnered with Powell, who was the artist for the graphic novels.
“Imagine if we can instill a social consciousness in every young person in America — that’s what we’re trying to do. Your generation is different of that that comes before you — you’re digital native, you grew up on the internet. Your most natural language, in most cases, is digital storytelling,” Aydin said.
He said school districts are starting to adopt the “March" trilogy as a part of their curriculum, and that it is helping to make a difference.
Its significance is not that it is being implemented in districts, but that it is teaching a non-violence to a new generation, and teaching a new generation how to stand up for themselves and empowering them, Aydin said.
After the speakers finished, students were given the opportunity to ask questions. Questions ranged from topics regarding the speakers’ favorite books to questions about their experience during the Civil Rights era.
After questions from the audience, the three speakers signed books for the audience. The first 300 students who arrived at the event received a complimentary “March" trilogy slipcase edition, with all three books.
“The day that I was first arrested, I felt free, I felt liberated,” Lewis said. “My philosophy is simple — when you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to stand up and speak up and speak out.”
Chloe Dopico is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in political science and journalism and media studies. She is the associate news editor for The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @ChloeDopico for more.