The Way of Peace, The Way of Love, The Way of Non-Violence: John Lewis Pre-Releases Graphic Novel at Amalgam
On Wednesday, June 27 a large and diverse crowd gathered inside of Amalgam Comics (2578 Frankford Avenue) for a special pre-release and signing of congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis’s third installment of his autobiographical graphic novel ‘March.’ Co-written by Andrew Aydin, the comic chronicles the struggles and triumphs of Lewis’s long history in civil rights activism.
According to Ariell Johnson, owner of Amalgam, Lewis’s team reached out to her events coordinator to set up the signing, which was specifically meant to coincide with Lewis’s trip to the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Philadelphia this week. It took months of planning.
“It was such an honor meeting him. It’s so unreal,” Johnson said. “I still haven’t wrapped my mind around it. It’s been [very busy], just kind of ripping and running, so I don’t think it’s had a minute to really settle.”
“As a black woman, the fact that he was standing up for me even though I wasn’t born yet, and […] the things that they achieved got us to where we are now,” Johnson added. “We’re not in a perfect place, and there’s still much more work to do, but even the fact that I’m able to own this business.”
Johnson told Spirit News that one woman who attended the book signing was close to tears when she thanked Amalgam for hosting the event. Johnson believes that many are honored to have the congressman visit their neighborhood.
“I think even if you don’t fully get it now, in ten years, you’ll understand what a big deal that was,” Johnson said. “That he would show a little additional love to Philly is really cool.”
One of those honored by the congressman’s presence was attendee Deirdre, 20. She was part of “a student group that [used similar techniques] and based its charter on SNCC’s charter,” so, for her, the event was very important as a way to recognize and remember the work of people like Lewis.
“We’re meeting someone who is a historical legend. He is part of America’s great tapestry of demonstrations and civil rights legislation,” Deirdre said. “[It reminds the community that] a lot of this is bigger than ourselves.”
Vernette Carroll, another attendee, found the event particularly significant. Carroll first met Lewis when she was 16, participating in the civil rights movement in Arkansas while Lewis was the chairman of SNCC.
“I was at the first march on Washington,” Caroll recounted. “I was at all the demonstrations in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, I went to jail, [was] hit over the head… we were trying to integrate a restaurant at the time and the state trooper said, ‘No, you can’t come in,’ and then they started beating us over the head. […] We did pay a price, a real big price. I was only a teenager.”
Carroll says that in her opinion, activists of today should maintain respect, and “have to come together and know that everyone is the same. When you see flowers, they [all look different] but they’re all the same. Just different colors. There’s no such thing as race. When you need blood, they’re going to ask for type. They’re not going to ask for race.”
Carroll moved to Philadelphia in 1969. She was planning to write to Lewis and travel to Washington D.C. to see him before learning that he would be in Philadelphia this week.
“It feels awesome [to meet him again],” Carroll said. “I didn’t think he would remember me but he said he did.”
Carroll plans to write a book based on her experiences, using snippets she has of newspapers and photographs from her time as an activist saved in a scrapbook. She brought the scrapbook and a young photo of herself to show Lewis, in remembrance of their shared and individual experiences.
The ‘March’ series, now in its third installment, draws from the experiences of Lewis and heavily relies on his recollections and input to take shape. According to Top Shelf Comix, the first installment became a “ #1 New York Times and Washington Post bestseller and an award-winning landmark in the graphic novel field. The sequel, March: Book Two, was released in January 2015.”
Leigh Walton, Editor of the ‘March’ book series, was skeptical of the idea of the books at first. He wary of the age-old celebrity comic cliche in which artists create the story and celebrities detachedly sign the cover (does anybody remember this William Shatner gem?). Walton said that after talking with Aydin, it was clear that they would struggle to keep up with Lewis’s vigor and workhorse actions. He finds it reflective of Lewis’s abilities to lead so victoriously in the civil rights movement.
Walton believes that the approach to effective protest must be specific, creative and convincing.
“Essentially the technique of non-violence is to make injustice intolerable,” Walton said. “[In March,] the congressman is dedicated to dramatizing things and expressing them in a clear and universally understandable way, so that when a third party is watching you confront an agent of injustice or an unjust situation, they are forced to acknowledge, ‘This is not right, I have to stand up and do something about this, how can I stay neutral?’ It’s a way to yank people out of their complacency, to dramatize the conflict of right and wrong.”
As the event came to its conclusion, Spirit News was able to pull Congressman Lewis aside for an interview. We asked Lewis what advice he has for young people in America today.
“Young people… should use ‘March’ as a guide, as a road map,” Lewis said. “Before we went on any sit-in, any march, we studied, we prepared ourselves. We studied the way of peace, the way of love, the way of non-violence. We were disciplined we had the dos and don’ts of the sit in movement, things like be orderly, sit up straight, don’t talk back, and abide by the way of peace, the way of love, the way of non-violence, and respect everybody. Respect the police officers, respect the opposition, and never hate, for hate is too heavy a burden to bear.”
He added: “It’s very moving to see these principles dramatized through graphics. It makes it real. People can be inspired, people can feel it, almost touch it. [Youth can see that if] the young people more than 50 years ago can do it, in a non-violent fashion, we can do it.”