|Lewis walks to his book talk|
"Now those chickens never did quite say 'Amen,' but I think they listened to me better than some of my (Congressional) colleagues do today. And some of those chickens were more productive," Lewis told the crowd, who honored him with a standing ovation before he began his remarks.
Lewis said that as young boy he was disturbed by the For Whites Only and Colored Only signs he encountered. "I would ask my parents why and they would say that's the way it is. Don't get in the way. Don't get in trouble."
"I didn't like it but I didn't know what to do about it. Then I heard about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. Dr. King inspired me and changed my life," he added. "I got into good trouble, necessary trouble."
"I began studying the discipline of nonviolence. We were sitting in at lunch counters. People spit on us. They put lit cigarettes in our hair and down our backs," he continued.
In Nashville, Lewis bought a used suit for $5 to wear as a protester. "I wish I still had that suit. I would sell it on EBay," Lewis joked.
In 1961, Lewis became one of the Freedom Riders. In DC, as Lewis' group of 13 was preparing to defy both law and social dictates to ride an integrated bus through the south, they went to the city's Chinatown district for a dinner. "One of the group said, 'We should eat well because this may be like our Last Supper."
Lewis and his group did not have to wait long for violence. In South Carolina, Lewis and others were pulled from the bus, beaten viciously, and left lying in pools of blood. In Alabama, white Southerners tried to burn the bus. That pattern of violence would follow Lewis for the rest of his time in the movement.
The congressman said his graphic novel trilogy is designed to make young people aware of the sacrifice and struggle that went into the Civil Rights Movement. He believes it is history that should never be forgotten.
Lewis believes that America has come a long way, but still has a long way to go in the ongoing struggle for equality for all people.
"When I was in Troy, Alabama I couldn't take a book out of the library - it was for whites only". In 1998, Lewis returned to speak at a program at the library and at its conclusion, he was given a library card. "That says something about the distance we have come," the congressman said.
Then there was the meeting not too long ago in Lewis' office on Capitol Hill. "This older gentleman and his son came in and said 'Mr. Lewis, I am one of the people that beat you. I want to apologize. Will you forgive me?' We hugged. He cried. His son cried. I cried."
"I am glad I got into that good trouble, that necessary trouble," Lewis concluded.
The congressman then turned the podium to Aydin, his co-author and staff communications director. Aydin, who describes himself as a life-long comic book geek, began prevailing on Lewis to write a graphic novel after learning that Martin Luther King had been the subject of a comic book during the Civil Rights era. At first Lewis declined, but after insistent urging, agreed to the project if Aydin would help him.
"Sometimes you get challenges that are real opportunities. You have to grab on to them. That's America. That's what makes this a special place."
Aydin said he never realized that March: Book 1 would spend 35 weeks on the New York Times Best Sellers List. He did, however, have an inkling that the book might enjoy some success after hearing back from a reporter who had received an advance copy. "I gave the book to my 9-year-old son and now he has put on a suit and he's marching around my house demanding equality for everyone,: the reporter told Aydin.
"I think today what would Dr. King tweet? What would Gandhi tweet? Imagine what they could have done with these (today's social media) tools?" Aydin noted.
"Today, you're seeing a restless generation all across the country. But they need nonviolence. They need to be the way the Civil Rights Movement was in its best moments," Aydin said. "We want this generation to see how it was done and create a new nonviolent revolution in this country."