“March: Book Three” charts the concluding events of John Lewis’s memoir of his participation in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. John Lewis, Georgia state Representative and former civil rights activist, joins author Andrew Aydin and illustrator Nate Powell to enumerate the woes of the black man in pre-voting rights America in the style of a classic comic book. The first two books of “March” chart Lewis’ upbringing and introduction into the civil rights cause. This installment completes Lewis’ graphic memoir, ending with the signing of the the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. A memoir that reads like a political pamphlet, this book lacks literary appeal.
The book begins with the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama on Sept. 15, 1963, and follows the struggles of civil rights activists to depose Governor Wallace and win the Alabama vote for the blacks. Author and protagonist, Lewis interprets the events depicted in bold black and white cartoons on every page. As the images depict the violence of the movement, the book takes the form of a list of grievances made against civil rights activists. Though the people and events are historical, they become dehumanized by the cause. The narration reads like my eighth grade history reader, shoving its agenda so far down my throat I thought I might choke on it.
Now the cartoons would be cool if it were a book on any other subject up for any other award. However, it seems ill-fitting that a comic book would win a national award for literature. I don’t mean to cheapen the history by dismissing the book, but doesn’t it cheapen it to turn it into a comic strip? It seems that this book got selected more for its agenda than its literary merit.
The National Book Award label promised an adventure story ripe with exciting plot and engaging narration and characters that my 14-year-old self would have enjoyed. Instead, the novel delivered a politician’s memoir in cartoon form. Kids spend all day long in school getting government-approved history. People aren’t ill-informed of the white man’s abuse of the black man. These days, kids know that slavery was evil; they know that segregation was a bad thing. Why are we harping on this, demonising the mistaken ideas of the past instead of creating something new for the next generation? We ought to be awarding books that are original and fresh, ones that appeal to more than political agendas. Lewis told the National Book Award committee that he told this story for every kids who needs a hero. However his heroes fail to compel the audience, overwhelming them with dogma.
In short, the book lacks the literary depth and subtlety that ought to be expected from a National Award winner. It only took five pages for me to pinhole the agenda of the entire book, and there were still another 250 pages to go.