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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Varieties of Institutional Racism

The March graphic novel trilogy chronicles the life US Congressman John Lewis, starting with his early experiences with institutional racism. Lewis grew up in rural Alabama and experienced firsthand the oppression and violence of the South's Jim Crow laws. He, his family, his friends, and his community witnessed domestic terrorism by the Ku Klux Klan, but it was the racist state government policies that affected him the most. Although the violence inflicted by terrorist organizations like the Klan made life in the South dangerous, the systemic oppression embedded in state and local laws were more far-reaching.

Institutional racism is the antagonist throughout the entire series, and its omnipresence illustrated its wide-ranging reach, even in non-segregated states. This is because there are two types of institutional racism: one that is written into law and one that is found in society, regardless of its absence in laws. For example, the latter can be found in discriminatory housing polices, which were practiced in supposedly progressive "northern" cities.

The Impact of the Civil Rights Movement

The most obvious theme in the March trilogy relates to the history of the civil rights movement. Lewis was a major figure in the movement but did not get the same recognition as Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy, or Malcolm X. However, Lewis was friends and colleagues with many figures in the civil rights movement. This gives Lewis a high level of authority in detailing the movement's history. Many historical figures are featured in the series, and Lewis offers various anecdotes and lesser-known key events that happened during the civil rights era.

Book 2 of the series covers the Freedom Riders campaign in the South as well as key events that happened during the civil rights era, such as the Birmingham Church bombing. The event became a turning point in the movement because the terrorist act elevated the level of threat by opponents of civil rights.

The Evolution of US Politics

The series highlights many key political events during the 1960s and 1970s. Lewis was an activist who took part in various political rallies and acts of civil disobedience (e.g., sit-ins). The scenes of the past are juxtaposed with a scene of Lewis preparing to attend the inauguration of President Obama, which illustrates the dramatic evolution of American politics, especially in the context of race relations.

The books' overall narrative does not limit itself to the civil rights movement but also details important political events that happened during that time period. It just so happened that the Vietnam War—which was an extension of the Cold War—coincided with the civil rights movement. The books, through vivid illustrations and prose, capture the atmosphere of this tumultuous era in American history.

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