It’s not one of the official daily themes at the Republican National Convention, but at the heart of every pledge to make the country great or safe or “one” again has been the issue of race. Whether it’s an all-white breakout panel promoting unity, Representative Steve King laying out a defense of white supremacy on live television, or the routine dog-whistle criminalization of immigrants and black people that has been a Republican Party trademark for years, race and racism have been central to the theater in Cleveland. Many of those ideas make the Trumpian vow to “Make America Great Again” sound more like a threat than a promise.
One person who is well-versed in these kinds of racial politics is Representative John Lewis, whose career as a black civil-rights icon and renown as the last living speaker at the famed 1963 March on Washington are now the stuff of legend. Lewis is working to ensure that the hard truths about race in America and his own legacy aren’t erased. His graphic-novel series, March, created by Lewis, his staffer Andrew Aydin, and the award-winning graphic novelist Nate Powell, has been a surprisingly good and critical part of that work. With its final installment, Book Three, due out in August, the series could be both a necessary guide to the past and a warning about the present.
I read all three books in the March series in one go. Even for readers who own the first two, mainlining the 20-year or so time period the series covers has the same effect as bingeing a season of a television show: The themes and cycles that motivate the action and the characters become more apparent. In the case of March, which covers Lewis’s life and perspective on the civil-rights movement of his childhood through the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, the true pervasiveness of American racism and racial inequality in the era is evident, as is Americans’ commitment to keeping it that way.