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The Influence of Youth

This photograph shows the second grade class of Monroe Elementary, with their teacher, Edna Vance, seated at the back of the classroom. In 1992 the Monroe School was designated a National Historic Landmark for its involvement in the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka court case (1954), which determined that the racial segregation of schools was unconstitutional.
John Edward Schrock, March 3, 1949, Kansas Memory, Kansas Historical Society
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This photograph shows the second grade class of Monroe Elementary, with their teacher, Edna Vance, seated at the back of the classroom. In 1992 the Monroe School was designated a National Historic Landmark for its involvement in the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka court case (1954), which determined that the racial segregation of schools was unconstitutional.

Hi, I’m Valerie a Radio Reader from Topeka and I just finished reading March by John Lewis, a graphic autobiography as part of our Radio Reader series this spring Worth a Thousand Words. So, I’m a history geek and I loved March which is a three-part autobiography of the late senator and civil rights activist John Lewis.

Hi, I’m Valerie a Radio Reader from Topeka and I just finished reading March by John Lewis, a graphic autobiography as part of our Radio Reader series this spring Worth a Thousand Words. So, I’m a history geek and I loved March which is a three-part autobiography of the late senator and civil rights activist John Lewis. The book itself was inspired by a 1958 comic book about Martin Luther King Jr. and the Montgomery Bus Boycott that made King and Rosa Parks household names.

The Civil Rights Movement is fascinating and while we are taught about the Big Names–Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Rosa Parks–few of us could probably name other major figures or talk about significant events that changed history outside of the March on Washington. We often forget or never learned that the Civil Rights Movement was a grassroots movement that began, flourished, and was sustained at the local level, often at great personal risk. We also aren’t told how young people played such a crucial role in the movement. March is the story of how one young man worked to change the world.

I find it fascinating how we often think that we’re powerless to make a difference, “I’m just one person. No one’s going to listen to what I do or say. I don’t matter.” History shows us over and over again that this thinking is false. Just off the top of my head I can think of two people from the present day who have made a huge difference–Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai. Thunberg is an environmental activist from Sweden who became well known in 2018 at the age of 15 for her activism and even addressed the United Nations. Yousafzai is an advocate for the education of females in her native Pakistan and catapulted to fame at the age of 15 when the Taliban attempted to assassinate her and a bullet lodged in her brain necessitating a transfer to England for medical care. After her recovery she continued to advocate for educational rights of women and at the age of 17 won the Nobel Peace Prize making her the youngest Nobel laureate ever.

Lewis was also such a force throughout his life and beginning in the late 1950s as a teenager when he met Martin Luther King, Jr. Lewis fought to end segregation and Jim Crow laws that restricted the freedoms of Blacks. Part I of March focuses on the late 1950s and early 1960s and chronicles the lunch counter sit-ins he participated in at segregated lunch counters and his introduction into the philosophy of nonviolence.

My grandparents told me how here in Topeka restaurants, theaters and swimming pools were segregated during the same period. Signs such as “no dogs or Mexicans allowed could be seen at various establishments throughout town. Mexicans, like Blacks, could only sit in theater balconies if they wanted to attend the movie theater and they were only allowed at the public pools one day a week–the day before the water was changed. We can’t be lulled into thinking that segregation was only a part of the history of the southern US. It was here as well.

The graphic novel format allows Lewis’s story to come to life in a way that it couldn’t had it been a traditional autobiography. To be sure, Lewis’s story is compelling but the images in the graphic novel form add movement and emotion. The artwork is stark, black and white only, to emphasize the black and white world of the time–segregation. The artwork also allows for different perspectives or points of view. For example, we see being on the picket line protesting segregated lunch counters by the legs and feet of the participants and something about that image adds depth to their actions.

I highly recommend March, parts one, two and three. It’s a great way for everyone to learn the history of our country. Let me know what you think. I’m Valerie, a radio reader from Topeka.

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Spring Read 2022: Graphic Novels—Worth a Thousand Words 2022 Spring ReadHPPR Radio Readers Book Club
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