The Fine Print
When Rep. John Lewis was 18 years old, he read a comic book that would change his life.
The comic book “Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Montgomery Story” became “like a bible” to Lewis -- and many others of his generation -- who became involved in civil rights.
“Many of the students at the sit-ins and later the freedom rides had read the book,” the civil rights icon told “The Fine Print” during an interview at Kramerbooks in Washington. “It inspired us to start sitting in and organizing and to follow the teaching of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.”
And now, Lewis is out with the second in a series of comic book-style memoirs, “ March: Book Two,” to inspire the next generation with his life’s story and involvement in the civil rights movement. He explained that the book series was initially the idea of his congressional aide, Andrew Aydin, who has since become the co-author of the book series.
“I was too young to know any better about whether or not it was appropriate to even pitch a member of Congress, much less an icon, on doing a comic book,” said Aydin, who joined Lewis in a joint-interview.
Though Lewis initially resisted the idea of writing a comic book, Aydin persisted.
"He kept coming back,” Lewis recalled. “And I recalled when I was only 18 years old I read a comic book called ‘Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Montgomery Story' -- that book changed my life.”
“I went on to write my graduate thesis at Georgetown on the history of ‘Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story,’” Aydin added. “And it became clear that Dr. King, A. Phillip Randolph, James Foreman, all of these individuals embraced comic books during the civil rights movement. And if they used it then, and it created a sense of urgency, if it helped inspire the young people to participate and to engage in direct action, why can't we do that again?”
In “March: Book Two,” Lewis and Aydin tell the story of Lewis’ involvement in the 1964 “March on Washington.” Lewis was one of the ten speakers invited to speak that day and is the only speaker still alive today.
"I think that I'm lucky but also blessed to be still here and see the changes that have taken place, the progress we've made,” Lewis said.
Lewis, who said he cannot forget that day, recalled being invited to meet with President John F. Kennedy following the march. “He stood in the door of the Oval Office greeting all of us, and he kept saying ‘You did a good job, you did a good job,’ and when he got to Dr. King he said, ‘You did a good job, and you had a dream.’ That was my last time seeing the president."
Nearly 50 years after Alabama State Troopers violently cracked down on a group of civil rights activists as they attempted to march from Selma to Montgomery, Lewis – who was among the protestors – recalled how the events of that day brought urgency to the cause of the Voting Rights Act.
"If they had allowed us to march I think it would have taken much longer for us to get to the legislation through the Congress,” the Georgia Democrat said.
“When the American people saw, when they read about what happened, they saw the photographs all over America people spoke up and spoke out,” Lewis said. “People took to the streets. There were demonstrations in more than 80 cities across America.”
The events of that day, March 7, 1965, are depicted in the new motion picture “Selma.” And Lewis, who is portrayed in the film, said he’s largely “very pleased” with the movie. But he said the film exaggerates the role played by President Lyndon Johnson in prompting the march.
“Some people want to think or suggest that President Johnson had suggested that people should march from Selma to Montgomery, but long before President Johnson became the president, we were engaged in Selma,” Lewis said, explaining that civil rights activists had been agitating for voting rights in Alabama long before they decided to march to Montgomery.
But Lewis said the film accurately portrays King's role in the lead-up to the march.
“Martin Luther King Jr. -- and I think so accurate in the movie -- came back from receiving a Nobel Peace Prize, had a meeting at the White House, and he said, ‘Mr. President, we need a Voting Rights Act.’ And Mr. Johnson said to him, in so many words, ‘We don't have the votes in the Congress; I just signed the Civil Rights Act. If you want it, make me do it.’ And that's what we tried to do.”
Despite the progress that has been made since the civil rights movement, Lewis pointed to the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, as an example that the lessons of the past need to be remembered today.
“It is my hope and my wish that more and more of the young people engaging in non-violent protests would take a lesson from ‘March’ and use the way of non-violence,” Lewis said. “But I'm gratified, more than anything else, to see young people not being so silent. That they're speaking out, with their hands, their feet, and saying that we're going to continue to push forward.”
For more of the interview with Lewis and Aydin, including whether Lewis believes the Edmund Pettus Bridge – where the Selma march turned violent – should be renamed, check out this episode of “The Fine Print.”
ABC News’ Kari Rea, Tom Thornton, Chris Carlson and Bob Bramson contributed to this episode.