Tag Archives: civil rights

“March: Book Three” by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin

This third volume concludes the trilogy, and it does so in a powerful and moving way. The story climaxes with the escalating tension in the civil rights struggle, which includes the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965, where John Lewis was nearly beaten to death by Alabama State Troopers.

There is so much relevant and important commentary in this text, that I struggled with what to cover in my post (hence a lapse between when I finished reading and when I wrote this post). Rather than try to cover all the socio-political issues addressed in the book, I figured I would focus on a couple of sections that really stood out for me personally.

The first thing that really resonated with me personally was a section about the press and their focus on the white volunteers who were involved in the civil rights movement at the time.

There had been several complaints about the white volunteers trying to take over. It also left a number of people sore that the press had focused much of their attention on the white workers, often identified by name, shown working alongside nameless blacks.

(p. 53)

I had experienced something like this personally when I lived in South Florida and I went to protest the repatriation of Haitian refugees at the INS offices. I was interviewed by the news and featured prominently on television because they wanted to know why a white American was out there protesting with a large group of black Haitians. For me, it was a basic human rights issue, and I have to say I felt pained that the media chose to focus on me and not on the Haitians who were literally fleeing for their lives from the Duvalier regime.

The next thing that really struck me deeply was a conversation between Lewis and Malcolm X. Malcolm stressed that the real issue of the civil rights problem is economic, that it is the disparity between the rich and the poor, a rift that continues through this day and is the cause of much of the suffering around the world.

Malcolm talked about the need to shift our focus from race to class, both among one another and between ourselves and the white community. He believed that was the root of our problems, not just in America, but all over the world. Malcolm was saying, in effect, that it is a struggle for the poor–for those who have been left out and left behind–and that it transcends race.

(p. 136)

I also learned from the book that Malcolm was assassinated on John Lewis’ birthday, which was February 21, 1965 (Lewis was born on February 21, 1940).

Toward the end of the book is a touching section that depicts Lyndon Johnson’s speech announcing the federal government’s enforcement of voting rights. The speech is included in its entirety and is worth reading closely, but I just want to focus on one key phrase.

The vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men.

(p. 242)

In the recent election here in the U.S., and in past elections, I have been sadly astounded at voter apathy and the sense that many people have that their vote does not mean anything, or that it is better to cast a protest vote to send a message to the “establishment” instead of voting for the better of the two primary candidates. While I certainly empathize with the sentiment of these people, considering the vote as something frivolous or useless will ultimately lead to the loss of its power as a vehicle for social change. We must never forget that gains are slow coming, but that progress can be torn down very quickly.

Anyway, I highly recommend this graphic trilogy to all readers, young and old. The books are inspiring, infuriating, and important.

Here are links to my posts on the first two books:

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“March: Book Two” by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin

This book opens with an image of two hands shaking: one black and one white. For me, that sums up what this book is about: reaching across the race divide.

This volume focuses on the increased violence that blacks faced as the civil rights movement gained momentum. It can be difficult to read at times, but the message is so powerful and important, that the story must be told. One part really pained me. It was depicting an attack on civil rights activists in Montgomery, AL on May 20, 1961. A mom had brought her young boy to the demonstration and was encouraging him to partake in the violence.

“C’mon… harder, Danny! That’s my boy… git him! Them eyes… git them eyes!”

(p. 75)

It’s an image I could not shake, and it reinforced what I already believed—that racism is taught. It is something that is passed down from generation to generation. I don’t believe that hatred is a natural state, but it is something that is learned.

Another thing that was not surprising yet resonated with me is how religion is twisted and used to justify hatred. This is evident in a quote from Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett.

“The Good Lord was the original segregationist. He put the negro in Africa, separated from all other races.”

(p. 114)

Without question, though, the most powerful part of this volume is John Lewis’ speech from the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. The book contains two versions of the speech. The edited version, which was the one he delivered, is presented with images in the graphic novel format. The original version, which was deemed a little too radical by some in the movement, is included as an appendix and is a great historical document.

The speech itself is too long to include here, but I encourage you to read it in its entirely. I will close the post with the closing words of John Lewis’ historic speech.

We will march through the streets of the south; through the streets of Jackson, through the streets of Danville, through the streets of Cambridge, through the streets of Birmingham. But we will march with the spirit of love and with the spirit of dignity that we have shown here today. By the force of our demands, our determination, and our numbers, we shall splinter the segregated south into a thousand pieces, and put them together in the image of God and Democracy. We must say: “Wake up, America! Wake up!!” for we cannot stop, and we will not and cannot be patient.

(p. 171)

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“March: Book One” by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin

This is the first book in a three-volume graphic novel about civil rights activist and Congressman John Lewis. I had heard this discussed on a couple podcasts that I listen to and it piqued my interest, so when I heard that Andrew Aydin, one of the writers, was doing a talk at a local indie bookstore, I went and listened to what he had to say. I was so moved and inspired that I purchased the first volume and had him sign it.

The book describes Lewis’ early days of activism, when he participated in the lunch counter sit-ins which were aimed at ending segregation. The stories of his past are presented as recollections from the Congressman on the day of Barack Obama’s inauguration, showing just how far civil rights have advanced in less than 50 years.

Before I talk about the text, I want to say something about Nate Powell’s artwork. It is excellent and visually captures the pain and emotion of that turbulent time. In addition, the choice to do all the artwork in black and white symbolically represents the contrast and division regarding race at that time in American history.

While in college, Lewis became inspired by the Social Gospel, which essentially asserted that one must apply the spiritual values from the Gospel to address social issues.

I loved the new ideas college was introducing me to, in religion and philosophy–but I couldn’t stop thinking about the Social Gospel. Here I was reading about justice, when there were people out there working to make it happen. I started to feel guilty for not doing more. I became restless.

(p. 65)

Later on, Lewis recounts his first meeting with Martin Luther King, who agreed to help Lewis try to get into Troy State University. King makes Lewis aware of the risks involved in challenging the State of Alabama and the Board of Education.

King: To attend Troy State, we’ll have to sue the State of Alabama and the Board of Education. You’re not old enough to file a suit–you’ll have to get your parents’ okay. They’re going to have to sign. But if you want to go, we’ll help–we’ll raise the money to file those suits, and we’ll support you all the way. But you must keep in mind–your parents could lose their jobs. Your family home could be bombed or burned. You may get hurt–or your family may get hurt. I don’t know what will happen.

(p. 71)

While reading this graphic novel, I learned that during the civil rights movement, an organization called the Fellowship of Reconciliation (F.O.R.) published a comic about MLK that was intended to teach young people about non-violent resistance.

F.O.R. had also published a popular comic book called Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story, which explained the basics of passive resistance and non-violent action as tools for desegregation.

(p. 76)

In his talk at the bookstore, Andrew Aydin told the attendees how he convinced John Lewis that the graphic novel format was the best way to tell his story. I am in full agreement. While the story itself is compelling and moving, it’s the images that make this such a visceral read. I encourage everyone to pick up this book and read it, especially in a time when intolerance seems to be rearing its ugly head once again.

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Applying “Common Sense” to Current Issues

CommonSenseLast year for my Independence Day blog post I read and commented on the Declaration of Independence. This year I opted for Common Sense by Thomas Paine. I’d read it years ago in college in my “Survey of American Literature” class, so I understood the concepts that Paine was trying to convey, essentially making a “common sense” argument in support of independence for the colonies.

In the following pages I offer nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense. (p 23)

Overall, I found this to be pretty dull reading. Paine is slow in getting to the point and as far as his simple facts go, he sure uses a lot of words to state them. That said, I approached the text with the intent of seeing what, if anything, is still relevant today. I found a couple of passages that could be applied to current issues.

The first issue I would like to address is marriage equality. In the US, we have a history of failing to acknowledge that discrimination based upon sexual preference is morally wrong. Many people are still attempting to pass legislation narrowly dictating what types of marriages should be accepted in this country. Essentially, this behavior is what Paine asserts is the defense of custom.

A long habit of not thinking a thing WRONG, gives it a superficial appearance of being RIGHT, and raises a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason. (pp 1-2)

I see the tumult finally subsiding, as demonstrated by the recent Supreme Court decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act. The antiquated ideas that have been promoted as custom and tradition are finally being swept aside.

The next issue is that of commerce. Paine states that when commerce, or capitalism, becomes the main focus of a country, that country suffers. People become complacent and are not willing to take the risks necessary to advance society as a whole.

Commerce diminishes the spirit, both of patriotism and military defence. And history sufficiently informs us, that the bravest achievements were always accomplished in the non-age of a nation… The more men have to lose, the less willing are they to venture. (p 51)

Paine concludes his pamphlet by addressing the issue that has plagued us from the beginning: the separation of church and state. Today, there are still people who use religion as a reason for promoting laws, especially laws that deny or restrict the rights of others. We must always remember the words of those who founded this country and oppose the influence or religion on politics whenever it rears its head.

And here without anger or resentment I bid you farewell. Sincerely wishing, that as men and christians, ye may always fully and uninterruptedly enjoy every civil and religious right; and be, in your turn, the means of securing it to others; but that the example which ye have unwisely set, of mingling religion with politics, MAY BE DISAVOWED AND REPROBATED BY EVERY INHABITANT OF AMERICA. (p 73)

Have a happy and safe Fourth of July, and help keep freedom and equality safe in this country.

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The Declaration of Independence

It has become customary for me to read the Declaration of Independence every July 4th. I think it’s important to keep fresh the principles on which this country was founded, especially when it seems that these principles are being distorted, neglected, and flat out broken. I recall several years ago, visiting the National Archives in Washington DC on a July 4th weekend, and thinking how our government was founded on a piece of paper, as opposed to the crown jewels that represent British government. It did make me feel proud to be an American.

I’d like to start by mentioning one of the more recognizable passages from the text: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” I’ve thought about this passage a lot this past year, as I’ve seen the rights of American’s being stripped away because of their sexual orientation. The pursuit of happiness means that individuals should have the right to be with a person who makes them happy and to share the same rights as all other citizens.

The document continues to list the offenses of the king against the colonies. As I read through the list, there were several that stood out as applicable today.

  • He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. — I see this occurring on a daily basis in Congress. Votes are cast along party lines without regard to whether a law benefits the citizens. Even worse is when laws are passed that benefit corporate interests at the expense of individuals and communities.
  • He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures. — This occurred just the other day here in NC, when the state legislature dragged out a session, causing a House representative to accidentally hit the wrong button on a vote to overturn a fracking ban. She immediately announced her mistake, but the people seeking to overturn the veto refused to allow her to change her vote and viewed it as a victory.
  • He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands. — I have just one word to say about this: Arizona.
  • He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries. — All I could think about as I read this one was Clarence Thomas. Let’s face it, he is not the picture of unbiased interpretation of the Constitution. And yes, Supreme Court justices tend to be either conservative or liberal, and I believe maintaining a balance is good, I have yet to see Mr Thomas vote in any way that would make me think that he is not a puppet.
  • He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people. — As I think about the environmental destruction of our resources and coastal regions for the sole purpose of monetary gain and to quench our insatiable thirst for cheap energy, and how people are now suffering as a result of assaults on the environment, I feel quite certain that our founding fathers would be appalled at what we have allowed to happen.

I encourage everyone to let go of the petty team mentality that has caused such a rift amongst Americans, resulting in intolerance and animosity that is based solely upon whether a person is considered progressive or conservative. Get involved, read, make educated decisions, and do not allow yourself to be swayed by propaganda. You can take the first step by carefully reading the Declaration of Independence right now.

Click here to read the text from the Archives’ website.

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The Shame of Amendment One

“I read the news today, oh boy.”

I’ve been finding it difficult to express my disappointment this morning with the latest chapter in bigotry and intolerance: Amendment One. As I watched the church buses yesterday shuttling people to the polls to joyfully strip an entire group of citizens of their civil rights, I felt waves of disgust. I suppose I had hoped that as a society we had made more progress.

Asheville Citizen-Times columnist John Boyle eloquently sums up exactly how I feel in today’s article: “Amendment One becomes our state’s shame” (click here to read the article).

I am going to try to remain optimistic and hope that this sad event becomes the catalyst that drives the movement for equality forward.

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