By Lauren Victoria Burke (NNPA News Wire Contributor)
In August 2013, Georgia Congressman and civil rights legend Rep. John Lewis teamed up with artist Nate Powell and writer Andrew Aydin released a graphic novel entitled “March: Book One.” The graphic novel series depicted Lewis’ historic involvement in the civil rights movement in comic book form. In January 2015, “March: Book Two” was released. Now the largest school system in the U.S. will be using the graphic novels to teach students about the civil rights movement.
Lewis, who has been in Congress since 1987, was the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) from 1963 to 1966 and, at just 23 years-old, he was the youngest speaker at the historic March on Washington in 1963. Lewis was also one of the original freedom riders. In 1960 he fought against segregation by participating in a series of dangerous non-violent demonstrations that would eventually lead to historic changes in the law in the South.
On March 7,1965, Lewis led a demonstration of over 500 marchers on Highway 80 in Selma, Alabama. When the marchers attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Lewis and several others, were confronted violently and beaten by police on a day now known as “Bloody Sunday.”
Now the New York City Department of Education has decided to use Lewis’ story as depicted in “March” as a tool to teach eighth graders about the civil rights movement. March has lauded by Publishers Weekly as being one of the best books of 2013 and was number one on the New York Times Bestseller list.
“I am deeply moved that New York City Public Schools are adding ‘March’ to the Social Studies curriculum. This is a major step to ensuring every young person receives the best possible education about Nonviolence and the Civil Rights Movement,” Lewis stated in a Facebook post on May 9.
Congressman Lewis and the graphic novel co-creators recently addressed hundreds of students in New York as well as many of school system’s social studies teachers about teaching the civil rights movement using the graphic novel series. “March” is being added to the a new teaching curriculum called “Passport to Social Studies.” In New York City, students study the civil rights movement in the 8th grade. Now the Department of Social Studies will feature scenes from the graphic novel “to discuss milestones such as John Lewis’s speech at the 1963 March on Washington,” according to a release from Top Shelf Comix.
Top Shelf Comix has also contacted other school systems and colleges about using the graphic novel featuring Lewis. “March” is being used as part of the first-year reading program at Michigan State University, Marquette and Georgia State as well as other schools.
“Teachers across the country, at every grade level, have embraced MARCH as a dynamic and powerful visual testimony of the civil rights movement, narrated by one of its major figures. For example: “MARCH has become essential reading in my courses…From the poignancy of Lewis’ childhood sermons with the family chickens to the courage of Freedom Riders nearly trapped inside a burning bus, each panel of MARCH rewards close readers, inviting analysis and critical reflection,” said Qiana Whitted of the University of South Carolina.
Lauren Victoria Burke is a political analyst who speaks on politics and African American leadership. She can be contacted at LBurke007@gmail.com and on twitter at @LVBurke.