Residents of East Lansing had the opportunity to hear about the civil rights movement from an intimate perspective Tuesday, as one of its leaders, Congressman John Lewis, spoke about his experience as part of East Lansing’s One Book, One Community event.
Co-sponsored by the City of East Lansing and MSU, the initiative encourages East Lansing residents to read the same book and participate in community discussions.
This year’s One Book, One Community reading is “March: Book One” — a graphic novel memoir trilogy co-authored by Lewis and Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell. It debuted as a No. 1 New York Times Bestseller.
“I stand here tonight to say thank you to Michigan State University for selecting ‘March: Book One’ ... I feel more than lucky, I feel very blessed,” Lewis said in front of hundreds of people who flooded the Hannah Community Center.
Lewis’ civil rights activism started after a trip he made to Buffalo, N.Y.
“Buffalo, N.Y., taught me a lesson. I saw white people and black people living side by side,” Lewis said. “I went back to Alabama more determined to bring down those signs that I saw that said ‘white man, colored man.’”
Lewis is the only “big six” civil rights leader alive.
After hearing about Rosa Parks and listening to Martin Luther King Jr., Lewis said he was inspired to get in the way of injustices. He told a story about how he was beaten and left in a “pool of blood” by white men in 1961. Years later, in 2009, one of his attackers went to his office in Capitol Hill and asked for forgiveness. Lewis forgave him.
“That is the power and the discipline of nonviolence — to be reconciled,” Lewis said.
The creation of the graphic novel was inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.’s comic book “Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story.”
For Aydin, the goal of “March: Book One” is to create a revolution of values and ideas.
Lewis said honesty is important when discussing racial issues.
“The struggle to create a loved community is not a struggle of one day, one month or one year — it’s a struggle of a lifetime,” Lewis said.
Director of the Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives Paulette Granberry Russell said “March: Book One” was an outstanding selection.
“I think the message in congressman Lewis’ book ... resonates today. Injustices happen; we have to be vigilant,” Granberry Russell said.
MSU Provost June Youatt hosted the event.