[Editor’s note: we post this every year on Martin Luther King Day.]
This slim comic from 1957 is credited with inspiring many to take on non violent protest as a means to achieving civil rights for all with its story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Most famously, a young John Lewis read it and recalling the power it had, inspired him to adapt his life story into the March Trilogy.
The comic, published by the Fellowship for Reconciliation, was written by pacifist Alfred Hassler and drawn by an unnamed artist*** in the Al Capp studio; it’s been translated into several other languages and in 2011 used as a tool in Egyptian protests. The initial print run was 250,000 copies, which gives you an idea of the power of the comics medium of the time.
Andrew Aydin, co-author of March, wrote his masters thesis about the history of this comic, and that thesis was adapted for this article at Creative Loafing.
I first heard about the civil rights-era comic book Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story from Congressman John Lewis in the spring of 2008. I had been working for him less than a year when I was driving him to an event and we got to talking about comic books. I remember Lewis sitting in the front passenger seat as he gently teased me about attending Atlanta’s comic convention Dragon Con. But then he said, “You know, there was a comic book during the movement. It was very influential.” I was captivated. Could a comic book have played a role in the Civil Rights Movement? If so, how? Could we do it again?
Its message is still strong.
***Update: Since last year, James Romberger made a major discovery in comics scholarship by identifying Sy Barry as the artist on this book.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.