Visuals Giving a Voice: March: Book Two Response
Through the pictorial depiction of Representative John C. Lewis’s speech at the March on Washington found on page 171, the authors are able to convey the passion with which Lewis addressed the audience and the transcendental ideas expressed in his words. The page consists of three panels, which move in stages to focus on different aspects of the speech and the environment surrounding Lewis. The first panel shows the Lincoln Memorial, with crowds of marchers surrounding the reflecting pool and Lewis as a minuscule figure at the center. In my personal interpretation of this text, this choice evokes an emotional reaction to the feeling of community within the crowd at the March on Washington, allowing me to imagine the weight of speaking at such an immensely historic moment. The speech bubbles on this page are smaller, holding text from Lewis’s speech that is sporadically bolded to emphasize the locations listed and demonstrate the universality of the Civil Rights movement. After reading the prior sections of the book, it was clear to me that Lewis lists some of the cities with the most violent actions towards Civil Rights marchers, including Jackson and Birmingham. For me, this further cemented the determination of Lewis – a man who had repeatedly experienced traumatic attacks while protesting in those locations – to continue until the goals of the movement were achieved. In the second bubble, a contrast is given to the violence inflicted upon those who marched at the cities listed in the first bubble – the sentence begins with “but,” and the bolded words are “love,” “dignity,” and “today,” creating a perception of the ideal movement that Lewis wishes to create.
In the second panel, a closer image of Lewis during his speech is shown with three speech bubbles. He stands at the right of the panel, allowing the eye to follow the speech through the connected bubbles, but creating an eye-catching image of his emotion while speaking. Arm outstretched and mouth wide in a shout, Lewis seems to evoke his own strength in his cause and the power of the Civil Rights Movement. Within the speech bubbles, the text gradually becomes bolder and larger, placing emphasis on a striking rhetorical choice within the speech and emphasize the rising tone of Lewis’s speech. Large bold text emphasizes “splinter the segregated South,” and even larger text at the end of the first bubble draws the eye to “the image of God and democracy.” These terms encapsulate the aims of the Civil Rights Movement, as well as their philosophy for how the changes should occur. In my reading of the text, the choice to use the “image of God” was particularly striking, as I am familiar with that concept in a religious context. The connection between the non-violence of the Civil Rights Movement and the social change advocated by Jesus in the Christian tradition is an interesting idea to explore, causing me to contemplate whether or not America was ever truly made in the “image of God.” The second bubble contains fewer words, and connects with the image of a shouting Lewis, with its largest text containing a call to action and emphasis on “WAKE UP!!” in the connected third bubble. This visual choice catches the eye and forces the viewer to understand the implications of Lewis’s message, as well as the personal call to action he presents.
The final panel on the page depicts two different images of Lewis, moving chronologically from top to bottom. The first image is a close-up of Lewis’s face – now emphasizing his furrowed brow and strong eyes to express his anger and despair at the violence, murder, and terror inflicted upon people within the Civil Rights Movement and others. His mouth is open as if speaking, and the speech bubbles are connected to him, shown on the right side of the panel unlike those in the upper panels – demonstrating a shift in tone and ideas. Within the two bubbles, two phrases are separated and evoke a pause in the speech. Only two words are bolded in the second bubble – “not” and “CANNOT,” which depicts the emphasis Lewis gives to the total refusal of the Civil Rights Movement to remain inactive while unjust harm comes to innocent people. For me, this panel is incredibly impactful, as it catches the eye and forces the reader to understand Lewis’s rage and to consider the pain – physical, emotional, and psychological – that he has endured to this point. The lower section of the panel has no words, and simply shows an image of Lewis, presumably following his speech, at the podium from behind. This provides a more humanizing view of Lewis as a human being rather than a leader speaking to a crowd, and also connects to the interspersed images of President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address throughout the graphic novel. For me, this image is possibly the most striking on the page, as it shows that the Civil Rights Movement contained not only idealized heroes, but human beings who suffered for their rights and the rights of others.
Following my group discussion of this page, I have gained an even greater understanding of the author and artist intentions behind the choices made on this page. Although I had initially considered the view of Lewis in profile behind the podium provided his viewpoint to humanize his character within the incredible action he had just taken, a member of my small group pointed out the controversy over the content of Lewis’s speech depicted in the preceding pages. I had not considered his act of packing up his notes as a metaphorical representation of the constrictive control of his message that remained despite the movement’s professed freedom of ideas. Personally, I feel that the authors could have intended to provoke both responses with this image – providing a view into Lewis’s mind in that moment of ultimate triumph marred by the lingering feeling that he was unable to fully express himself.