Led by Professor Wills, this unit studied the Civil Rights Movement in the United States with the specific intention of understanding racial supremacy and the religious perspectives that support racism. This post is a response to an illustration from March: Book Two by John Lewis.
March Book Two: A Closer Look
On May 2, 1963, an organized protest took place in Birmingham, Alabama. However, this nonviolent march was unlike the civil rights protests that had preceded it, and instead, it was predominantly made up of children. The book, March Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell uses graphic “rhetoric” to convey this event. The full page illustration on page 135 is particularly impactful due to its intentionally designed size, characters, and speech balloons.
The most obvious yet effective strategy used in this illustration is its size. The drawing takes up an entire page of the book. This allows the reader to pay close attention to the details of the image, and spend more time absorbing the image’s information. Smaller panels in a graphic novel create a faster pace for the reader and often imply movement. This large illustration creates a stillness and pause that fully impacts the reader.
The two main figures of the illustration are clearly separated from the background. Because of their darkness in shading, this contrast brings the figures forward on the page. The reader sees a young black girl and an adult white police officer. What is most striking to me about these characters is their body language and physical stances. The young girl is standing upright, with her shoulders back and head lifted. This expresses power and strength. The police officer is lowered onto his knee to become closer to the girl’s height. Usually, criminals are met with intimidation by the police, yet here, the officer has lowered himself. The officer recognizes that this is just a child, even so, he will arrest her, due to the racism that the police upheld at this time.
The text in this illustration is also effective. The conversation between the officer and girl is short, emphasizing the innocence of the girl and the simplicity of her demands. The final statement at the bottom of the page reads, “It was an embarrassment to the city.” Because this sentence is at the bottom of the page, it naturally forces the reader to look at the conversational speech bubbles and the characters before reading this line. Bolding the word “embarrassment” emphasizes this word and the madness of the police forces’ actions. The final line summarizes the illustration, convincing the reader of the racism and injustice within the police force in Alabama.
In Professor Wills’ final lecture on December 5th, this illustration was further discussed. The conversation focused on the poster that the little girl is holding which reads, “Can a man love God and hate his brother?”. This question calls out the relationship between religion and racism in America, exposing the hypocrisy. A small detail that adds to this contrast is the officer’s wedding ring. The police officer wears this ring as a sign of his marriage and as a symbol of this religious sacrament, yet he is enforcing a racist system of law. This can be tied to the same thought process that Hannah Arendt discusses when analyzing Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. Arendt uses the term, “banality of evil” to describe how Eichmann was working under orders and was not uniquely evil in the way people may have thought. Can the police officers arresting children be viewed with the same perspective? Why does the police officer in the illustration make an effort to understand? Why does he kneel in the first place? Is this an attempt to understand the absurdity of the situation?
Lewis, John, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell, and Chris Ross. 2015. March. Vol. Book Two /. March, Bk. 2. Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Productions.