March: Book One

March Book OneMarch: Book One. Written by Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin. Illustrated by Nate Powell. Top Shelf Productions, 2013. 128 pages. Recommended for ages 11 and older. ISBN: 9781603093002.

March: Book One is a partial autobiography in graphic form of Congressman John Lewis. Lewis was 23 when he spoke at the March on Washington in 1963.  March: Book One addresses Lewis’s childhood in rural Alabama and his time as a college student in Nashville, Tennessee.

The book starts on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and then switches to the morning of President Obama’s inauguration, when a woman and her two sons show up in Lewis’s office. The mother didn’t expect Lewis to be there. She simply wanted her son’s to see how far society had come from the 1950s and 1960s to a time when Lewis could hold congressional office and Barack Obama could be inaugurated as president. Lewis welcomes the visitors into his office and proceeds to tell the young boys about his life. The boys’ questions partially guide his reminiscences. The book switches back and forth between those reminiscences and January 20, 2009.

Lewis tells the boys that he was responsible for the family’s chickens when he was young, a job he loved. But he hated killing and eating the chickens, perhaps a foreshadowing of his later recognition of the importance of nonviolence in the civil rights movement.

Lewis talks about his fascination with Dr. Martin Luther King’s “social gospel.” Nonviolence was a primary tenant of that gospel. Jim Lawson, a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, was another early influence in the direction of nonviolence.

The events of the movement to desegregate lunch counters in Nashville where Lewis attended college are detailed in a fast-paced and exciting way. Towards the end of the book, Lewis speaks of his frustration with the “traditional black leadership structure,” including people such as Thurgood Marshall and organizations such as the NAACP. Lewis himself was active in founding SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, at a meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference where Lawson was the keynote speaker.

This is the first graphic book I’ve read. I found that the drawings add emotion. As I sat down to read this book, I wished I had chosen another book. It seems I’ve read a number of books recently that talk about the Jim Crow South. Once I started reading, though, I realized this is a unique story of the Jim Crow South: this is John Lewis’s story. It’s tense and it’s exciting and I learned things I never knew before. I’m eager to read the next two installments in this three book autobiography.

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The Voice That Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights

The Voice That Challenged a NationThe Voice That Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights by Russell Freedman. Clarion Books (an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), 2004. 128 pages. Publisher recommends for ages 9-12. ISBN: 9780618159765.

Marian Anderson was African-American singer of both classical and spiritual music. She was born in 1897 and grew up in Philadelphia. In her teen years, when she began to perform, she traveled extensively. Audiences everywhere marveled at her voice. When she travelled In the South, she was introduced to the indignities of the Jim Crow laws. Finding a place to stay, a place to eat, and a place to perform was difficult. However, Anderson seemed to feel that dealing with segregation in the South was just the price of being able to sing for Southern audiences. Above all, she loved to sing.

Anderson worked with three vocal coaches, and even after she stopped needing coaches, she still critiqued her own performances and tried to learn from what she felt she had done well and from what she felt she had not done well. She spent extended periods of time in Europe in order to learn the languages of her repertoire. She performed for Heads of State, for Kings and for Queens in Europe.

Back in the United States, in the spring of 1939, Anderson wanted to perform in Washington DC. All venues except Constitution Hall were too small for the expected audience. The Daughters of the American Revolution owned Constitution Hall and had a strict policy forbidding African-Americans to perform at the Hall. Anderson had performed for President and Mrs. Roosevelt at the White House, but she could not perform at Constitution Hall, in spite of pleas from dignitaries such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Harold Ickes, the Interior Secretary.  Eleanor Roosevelt resigned her membership in the DAR. On Easter Sunday, 1939, Marian Anderson gave a free concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. 75,000 people came to hear her sing. The concert became a model for protest events throughout the civil rights movement. Marian Anderson didn’t intend to be a figure in the civil rights movement. She only wanted to be a singer. But after the concert at the Lincoln Memorial she joined the NAACP and became one of their most effective fundraisers.

Freedman’s research is impressive. He deftly weaves together Anderson’s career and the civil rights movement. Photographs set the context.

Marian Anderson is a role model for any artist struggling to learn and perfect their art, and for any person of color seeking to work in this country where segregation hasn’t disappeared.

Blog Reviews:

Maw Books Blog
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Book Trailer:

Marian Anderson Singing:

He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands

Ave Maria