Written by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, Illustrated by Nate Powell
Published by Top Shelf Productions
Many Americans outside of the black community may only understand the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s through the actions of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. Many have never heard of John Lewis, and the tremendous role he played as the young leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Campaign. Until now. March: Book Three swept the book awards season of 2017, winning four American Library Association awards as well as the National Book Award for Young People. The graphic nonfiction format of the book makes this already engaging history even more accessible for tweens, teens, and adults of all ages. The third in a trilogy of graphic memoirs, March: Book Three concludes the history of the Civil Rights Movement of the early 1960s with the passing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. The trilogy uses January 20, 2009, President Barack Obama’s first inauguration, as a framing structure for the series as a whole, taking us from morning to evening over the course of the three books; the bulk of the narrative is formed by flashbacks to the Civil Rights Movement woven throughout. While March: Book One focused on the sit-ins of the early 1960s, March: Book Two focused on the Freedom Rides, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and the Birmingham Children’s Crusade. March: Book Three begins with the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, and captures Freedom Summer, the Civil Rights Act, the Selma-to-Montgomery March, and the Voting Rights Act. A combination of nonfiction, memoir, and historical fiction, the trilogy almost defies categorization. As memoir, it captures Lewis’s unique perspective as an insider to the movement, and the only member of the “Big Six” still alive today. As history, it captures in incredible detail the nonviolent protests, boycotts, and marches from 1959-1965, as well as the decision-making processes of the leadership of the various constituencies working together in common cause. As historical fiction, it provides dialogue via speech bubbles, bringing historical figures to life, with all their strengths and weaknesses. As a visual work of art, it carries the reader through actions large and small, public and intimate, horrifying and heroic. We are reminded throughout of the power that white America held, of the privilege that allowed white America to ignore the disenfranchisement and deaths of so many African Americans for so long. Lewis avoids sugarcoating, and presents an honest portrait of victories and losses, collaboration and contradictions and disagreements. Ultimately, however, the strength and resiliency of the movement, the collective action, nonviolence, and deferred gratification shines through. After so many starred reviews and award designations, it is cliche to write that the March trilogy should be required reading for all Americans. We all have much to learn from the strategic brilliance, and the compassion, courage, and tenacity of those who came before us. John Lewis is still with us, still fighting for justice and equality for all. Our future is yet unwritten.
Teaching Ideas and Invitations
Protest, Physical Harm, and Nonviolence. As your students read the trilogy as a whole, or just March Book Three, ask them to consider what it took for those activists to face physical harm, arrest, and even death again and again. How does a non-violent approach to protest require a different kind of strength and commitment? A different kind of courage? Does choosing nonviolence make one stronger? How so? Many African Americans were killed in the quest for justice, and still the movement advocated for nonviolence. The murder of two white activists in Mississippi helped to capture the public’s attention. Why did white lives matter so much more when it came to the national media? Show some of the still photographs and film footage in the Further Explorations section below, to help reinforce the reality of history. You may want to bring in one of Mahatma Gandhi’s essays on nonviolent resistance. Do all lives get the same attention in the news today? Why or why not? Have students write reflections on what their core beliefs are about the world today. What needs to be changed and why? What are the causes worth fighting for from their perspective? Worth dying for?
Graphic Nonfiction. March Three won four awards from the American Library Association this winter and The National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in November. Specifically, it won ALA’s two nonfiction awards, the Sibert Medal and the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction. March: Book Three, and the March trilogy as a whole, serve as both personal memoir and public history. But is the trilogy nonfiction? How do you and your students typically define nonfiction? What attributes of nonfiction does March: Book Three have? Explore the YALSA nonfiction award policies and those of the Sibert Medal. Compare and contrast those policies to the criteria used for the Orbis Pictus Award from NCTE. None of the criteria focus on the role of invented dialogue. Dialogue is used extensively throughout March: Book Three. No source material, other than the author’s lived experiences, is referenced at the back of the book. What additional research was done to confirm dates and times? Upon what is the dialogue based? Is March: Book Three nonfiction or historical fiction? Does thinking of the book as historical fiction make it any less “true?” Have students next read Don Brown’s 2016 Orbis Pictus Award-winning graphic nonfiction Drowned City. How does it take a different approach to graphic nonfiction? What are the appropriate boundaries for graphic nonfiction according to your students? If students want to expand their consideration of graphic nonfiction, they can look at YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens list, which despite its name, is organized by nonfiction and fiction.
Graphic Memoir. Is memoir really nonfiction? It isn’t fiction. Is it something in-between? What about graphic memoirs? How do they read differently than traditional memoir? Have some students read self-selected graphic novel memoirs written for teens available from your school and public library system, such as the Sibert Award-winning memoir To Dance: A Ballerina’s Graphic Novel by Siena Cherson Siegel and Mark Siegel. Have some students read Linda Blackman Lowery’s Sibert Honor memoir Turning 15 on the road to freedom: My story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March. What are the commonalities that graphic and traditional memoirs share as a genre? What are the ways in which they differ? To what extent do your students consider memoir a category of nonfiction and to what extent do your students consider memoir its own separate category?
Tracking the Movement. Across the March trilogy and even within just Book Three, Lewis and co-author Aydin are honest about the disagreements and tensions within the movement. Have students create graphic organizers that represent the different ways that leaders within the movement disagreed with one another. Give students the freedom to create a structure that works best for them. Some may want to create a timeline of events; some might want to create a continuum from radical to conservative. Ask your students how this exploration of perspective and point-of-view helps them to understand current events, leadership, and governance more deeply.
Hate Crimes. The violence experienced by civil rights activists would certainly be considered a hate crime today. But how did hate crime legislation begin and for what purpose? How could the federal government stand by so long and allow citizens to be denied the right to vote, to be beaten, unlawfully detained and jailed, and even killed? Why do we need hate crime laws to make sure that such offenses don’t take place? Have your students explore the history of hate crime legislation, drawing from a range of resources, such as The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and the National Institute of Justice. Have students examine the Hate Map and official list of Active Hate Groups tracked by the Southern Poverty Law Center. An outgrowth of the Civil Rights Movement, it is not coincidental that the Southern Poverty Law Center is located in Montgomery, Alabama. As students consider the activism of young people throughout the Civil Rights Movement, have them research specific instances of hate documented in your area by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Marching in 2017. The March trilogy was published over a three year period, from 2013-2016. During that time, protests and marches have been in the news. Perhaps the most visible and consistent have been the Black Lives Matter marches and protests in the aftermath of Treyvon Martin’s murder. In January 2017, the Women’s March took place around the world and in cities and towns all over the United States. Soon after, the annual March for Life anti-abortion protest took place in Washington, D.C.. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe, indigenous leaders throughout the United States, and their allies are sponsoring a march on March 10th in Washington, D.C., to protest against construction of the Dakota Pipeline on their land. A Climate March is planned in Washington on April 29th. After reading March: Book Three, or the series as a whole, what do your students find most effective about marching as a form of protest and messaging? What have the marches in 2017 brought attention to so far? Are marches typically for or against something? How do marches differ from protests, strikes, or boycotts? Have your students research some of the organizations sponsoring the marches listed here, or others, to learn more about what happens in the aftermath of the march. What connections can they draw to the ongoing work between 1959-1965 detailed in the March trilogy? How are political and social movements sustained today in-between public marches and protests?
Political Movements and Communication. How did members of SNCC and other groups active in the Civil Rights Movement communicate with one another? March: Book Three shows them writing letters, having face-to-face meetings, speaking at church services, and using the telephone. Press attention was important then as it is now in getting the word out. We see two moments in particular where television news plays an important role in garnering national attention and action: when Fannie Lou Hamer’s testimony at the 1964 Democratic Convention is covered live, and interrupted by an impromptu press conference by President Johnson, and when the ABC television network interrupted its Sunday night movie to show fifteen minutes of Bloody Sunday attack by police. Compare these methods with contemporary efforts used by politicians and political activists to communicate with supporters and coordinate action as well as their efforts to communicate with the public at large. What has changed? What has stayed the same? What is essential about political messaging? Students may want to examine the websites of Hillary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaigns, as well as those of political and social organizations that reflect their interests. Compare and contrast those websites to the Facebook pages and Twitter posts of those same organizations. What does each medium shape the message differently? Create a simulation in which small groups of students have joined the communications team of an invented or real organization invested in social change. Have yours students create a communications strategy for the organization that they then pitch to their classmates.
Going Beyond MLK: Gaps in Knowledge. Many young people across the United States never get the opportunity to explore the Civil Rights Era in-depth in school; often, their knowledge is limited to Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. Read collectively, the March trilogy provides readers with an in-depth examination of the Civil Rights Movement through the perspective of John Lewis. As your students complete March Three, or the trilogy as a whole, have them keep track of the information and people from the Civil Rights era that were new to them. Periodically, have them compare and contrasts their lists. Since Congressman John Lewis is on Twitter (@repjohnlewis), your students can thank him for expanding their knowledge. Next, have students brainstorm events from the era or people featured in the trilogy that they want to know more about, and research them further. Some of the digital links and books listed below may be helpful starting points.
Exploring Freedom Summer. Have your students do a deep diver into the summer of 1964, “Freedom Summer.” Some students can read March: Book Three, some can read Susan Rubin’s nonfiction chapter book Freedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi, and some can read Deborah Wiles multigenre historical novel Revolution. Students can compare and contrast the similarities and differences between the books and their representation of the historic events of that summer. Students can write their own multigenre responses to the exploration, creating portfolios filled with a range of genres, including, but not limited to: short fiction, graphic fiction or nonfiction, newspaper articles, poems, and speeches and analysis of historic newspaper articles, broadcasts, and speeches.
The Republican Party at a Crossroads. On pages 102-103, March: Book Three presents the sharp contrasts presented to Republicans at the 1964 Republican Convention. New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller warned that, “The Republican Party is in real danger of subversion by a radical, well-financed, and highly disciplined minority.” He advocated that the party respond to the “human needs in a changing world.” Instead, Barry Goldwater who referred to “false notions of equality,” won the nomination. Goldwater later lost the election to Lyndon Johnson. Compare and contrast the tensions of the Republican Party in 1964 with the tensions within the Republican Party in 2016. Have your students research speeches, events, and platforms using the databases available to you from your school and public library, news websites with footage from the 2015-2016 primary debates, as well as LBJ Library and The American Presidency Project. What are the similarities between 1964 and 2016? What are the differences in the debate? Given that the Republican candidate won the election, what role should those within the party who shared similar concerns to Nelson Rockefeller in 1964 play?
Black Freedom Movement: 2009-2017. The March trilogy uses Barack Obama’s inauguration day as a frame for the series, capturing for tween and teen readers the extraordinary contrast between the America that President Obama was born into in 1961 and the America that elected him president in 2008. As the nation’s first African-American president, what was President Obama able to do to help fulfill the unmet goals of the Black Freedom Movement, a portion of which the March series explores? What has changed for African-Americans? According to what information and statistics? To what extent is equality still out of reach? How do we measure equality? What statistics do consider and why? Have students share specific questions they have based on their reading of March: Book Three as well as current events during President Obama’s eight years in office. Such topics could include: educational equity, labor equity, home ownership, poverty rates, employment statistics, healthcare statistics, and the incidents of injustice and police brutality that gave birth to the Black Lives Matter Movement. Next, have them conduct research using newspapers, magazines, research reports, and websites from reputable organizations to find verifiable information on these issues and events. Make sure to draw upon the expertise of your school librarian to support your students. It is helpful to use databases your state or town subscribe to (off of your school or local public library’s website) for the most verifiable information. Have your students research in small groups, and then work towards a class publication, such as a class magazine or podcast.
Contemporary Voting Rights. March: Book Three focuses very specifically on the efforts towards voting rights in the wake of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law in the wake of Bloody Sunday in Selma. What is the status of voting rights in the United States today? Who votes easily? Who continues to face barriers? Have your students explore resources from The Leadership Conference on Voting Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union. Next, have them look at a collection of stories on voting rights from The New York Times and a single story from U.S. News and World Report. In what ways does the Voting Rights Act still do what it was originally intended to do? In what ways has the law been eroded? How does that impact your community? With this information, have students conduct interviews with family, friends, and community members. Create a common set of questions on voting rights, voting habits, and voting histories, and compare and contrast the results. If possible, have students include locally-elected officials in the interview process. After students have completed their interviews, you might also want to invite local leaders of two primary political parties (Republican and Democrat) as well as smaller parties (Libertarian, Green, and others) to speak to your students about how they protect the voting rights of all citizens, not simply members of their own party, as well as local representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union.
John Lewis on Twitter: @repjohnlewis
Civil Rights Movement
Birmingham Church Bombing and Birmingham Children’s March 1963 (covered in March: Book Two)
Selma to Montgomery Marches
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
Asim, J. (2016). Preaching to the chickens: The story of young John Lewis. Ill. by E.B. Lewis. New York: Nancy Paulsen Books.
Bausum, A. (2006). Freedom riders: John Lewis Jim Zwerg on the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement. Washington, DC: National Geographic.
Haskins, J. (2006). John Lewis in the lead. Ill. by B. Andrews. New York: Lee and Low Books.
Lewis, J. and Aydin A. (2013). March: Book one. Ill. by N. Powell. Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Productions.
Lewis, J. and Aydin A. (2015). March: Book two. Ill. by N. Powell. Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Productions.
Birmingham: The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Bombing, The 1963 Children’s March
Curtis, C.P. (1995). Watsons go to Birmingham, 1963: A novel. New York: Delacorte Press.
Levinson, C. (2012). We’ve got a job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March. Atlanta, GA: Peachtree.
Rubin, S.L. (2014). Freedom summer: The 1964 struggle for civil rights in Mississippi. New York: Holiday House.
Wiles, D. (2014). Revolution. New York: Scholastic.
Selma to Montgomery Marches
Lowery, L.B. (2015). Turning 15 on the road to freedom: My story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March. New York: Dial Books.