Rep. John Lewis, Civil Rights icon, passes away

Lewis told the story of the Civil Rights era in the graphic novel trilogy ‘March.’

John Lewis, the Civil Rights icon who marched for racial equality in the 1960s and served in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1987, passed away today at the age of 80. Lewis had been fighting stage IV pancreatic cancer since December.

The congressman from Georgia was one of the original Freedom Riders and stood against racism, desegregation and discrimination his entire life — both in the streets and then later in Congress.

He helped organize, and spoke at, the famous 1963 March on Washington, and was arrested, jailed and beaten for challenging Jim Crow laws throughout the South. He was the last surviving member of the “Big Six” Civil Rights leaders, a group that included Martin Luther King Jr., James Farmer, A. Phillip Randolph, Roy Wilkins and Whitney Young.

He was also an award-winning graphic novel writer.

In August of 2013, Top Shelf Comix published the first graphic novel in the March trilogy, which was co-written by Lewis and Andrew Aydin, with artwork by Nate Powell. Inspired by the classic comic Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story, Lewis told Aydin, then his aide, about the comic, and Aydin suggested that Lewis write a comic about his own experiences. The three volumes of March would bring the history Lewis lived through to life, starting with his youngest days and going through the end of the Civil Rights era.

Top Shelf’s Leigh Walton, Nate Powell, Andrew Aydin and John Lewis at Comic-Con International, 2013. (Photo by Corey Blake)

“I commented two years ago that March was more than just a history book, it was a guidebook,” Smash Pages contributor Brigid Alverson said back in 2017. “I had no idea back then how true that would be. Since the election, I have joined a group of ordinary citizens who are concerned about preserving civil rights for all people and not rolling back the gains of the last 50 years. Most of us don’t have any experience with protests, demonstrations, or political activism, but now, suddenly, it has become necessary to do these things. As I move into this strange new world, March has been a valuable guide.”

The three volumes of March would go on to be nominated for and win numerous awards, including the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, a Coretta Scott King Book Award, the National Book Award and the Eisner Award, among others. Each volume also appeared on several “best of the year” lists. Lewis would attend Comic-Con International multiple times, and even led a “march” across the showroom floor.

“Dr. King and others inspired me to get in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble,” Lewis said in a piece for Time in 2018. “And I think we’re going to have generations for years to come that will be prepared to get in trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble. And lead us to higher heights. It’s a struggle that doesn’t last one day, one week, one month, one year. It is the struggle of a lifetime, or maybe many lifetimes.”

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