I chose to analyze the panel at the bottom of page 73, which depicts the freedom riders disembarking their bus in Montgomery, Alabama. When viewing this illustration, what first jumped out to me were the crowds. The wide angle and birds eye views captures dozens of people found in two main groups: a racist, white mob encircling the freedom riders’ bus, and the freedom riders, huddled together out of fear. The scene’s inclusion of so many people conveys the chaos and danger of the event, in a way that a book or even a photograph couldn’t; it would take pages to describe everything going on in this instant, all the dialogue, all the actions, all the people, and a photograph is limited by reality; the photographer would be standing on the ground, plus the dialogue would be lost. The scariness and destruction of the event is unmistakable, but there is hope in this picture as well. The tight cluster of freedom riders, poised to run, or fight, or hold strong, is inspiring. Their strength in the face of such violent bigotry is hard to imagine, but this picture does a good job of conveying it. The fact that this is an illustration allows the author to optimize every part of the scene to convey its most powerful aspects (and bias, too). This illustration also does a good job of showing what is happening, but also what isn’t happening; no one is there to help, perhaps a result of the bystander effect. Although this picture inspires me and demonstrates the strength and commitment of the freedom riders, its strongest effect might be the disgust it invokes in me at the mob. It makes me want to distance myself from any part of the mob; the hate they show is disturbing, and their mob mentality is shown through the wide angle of the scene.
I selected page 48 to examine closely. This page comes after a bus with freedom riders is attacked upon arrival in Birmingham. The use of art on this page helps the reader appreciate the events and power that allowed the bus to be attacked even though the police were informed that the freedom riders would be arriving. The page is set up to give the impression of watching a television interview. the police chief is introduced in the second panel. The second and fourth panels both show the police chief’s face, framed in the same shape as the television screen. These shots are zoomed in closer and closer. The fifth panel shows the police chief the closest yet, with text over his eyes. At no point can you see the police chief’s eyes through his glasses. Adding to this, he is given the nickname “bull”. This gives the impression that his presence is inhuman and detached. The text tells that even the governor fears him. The third panel, the final text on the page, and the bottom third of the background on this page are darkened. This gives the impression that the police chief is a dark, cruel figure. The third panel shows a man with a satisfied face committing an act of violence from the perspective of the victim. There is a dark cloud in the background. The final text on the page explains to the reader that the police chief gave the KKK 15 minutes with the bus before making arrests. He wrote it off as giving officers time off for mother’s day. The sinister facial expressions and the clouding of his eyes make this statement even colder. This page stuck with me in large part because of the severity and intensifying nature of the art. The use of the zoom-in on the police chief and increased use of darkness painted a vivid picture of the effect that police violence had on the anti freedom rider violence. Racist police forces amplified the violence and hatred that the freedom riders faced. The only legal authority in many of the towns, not just Birmingham, where the riders stopped actively disobeyed the law. Police allowed violent acts to be committed, often times initiating violence. This is communicated clearly and unflinchingly on this page. The line “Everyone was afraid of him- even the governor” particularly stuck with me. This line, coupled with the stern, blank, cold expression of the police chief communicated more than just words could.
I chose a selection of pages that discussed the March of the Birmingham youth. At the bottom of 132 you can see the panels zoom closer and closer to a particular youth in the crowd. In the first panel he is only depicted as part of the larger march. But the following panels, get closer to where we get a glimpse into his eyes and can see the individual beads of sweat roll down his face. In this moment you can feel the fear and hesitancy he must be feeling in the moment. This strongly resembles the Ghandi clip we watched in class; the camera man zoomed in to different members of the salt march so that viewer could feel the emotion of fear. In both representations of nonviolence protest, the viewer is forced to confront the individual sacrifice and conviction to the cause in the participant’s faces. The following page (134) zooms out and gives the reader a broader view of the conflict with depictions showing the march and the resulting arrests of young children. However, these panels zoom out and let the reader forget that these are children marching. This effect makes page 135 particularly shocking and motivating. Page 135 depicts a young girl requesting “F’eedom” from a burly cop as a line of children is being arrested. This image is jarring due to the juxtaposition between the young girl and the cop. The girl’s simple response of “F’eedom” hammers home the absurdity of the situation. The viewer when confronted by this panel is forced to ask themselves “is this real?”, “did this actually happen”. The absurdity of the young girl simply asking for freedom, one of the core principles the US was founded on as other eight-year-olds are arrested for peaceful protest is as shocking an image the illustrator could have drawn. This scene being the ultimate culmination of the close ups of the children shows that while the children are fearful of what will happen to them during the march, they are willing to participate in the name of freedom. This demonstrates the idea of “Dramatizing the Scene” that Professor Wills mentioned. The goal of nonviolent protest is to make the absurdity of Jim Crow or other issues so blatant the public can’t avoid it or play it off. The depiction of the little girl standing up to the law adds a layer of innocence and emotion that forces the general public to address what is going on. At least for me, these pages elicited emotions of embarrassment that this happened in our country and confusion. These panels confound to why cops and people of the time though it was justified to arrest these young children. To arrest young kids who are begging for the one thing that is guaranteed to every citizen in the country is an embarrassment to the ideals this country was founded on.
In this picture, the shadowing and light placement make it seem like Martin Luther King Jr. has left the light of the world and has been transported to the darkness of prison. However, the light seeps into the jail cell, and it makes it seem like he is supported by the light that shines behind him, that the prison cell was completely dark until he walked in. This, coupled with the text that posits that willingly acting against the law to better the community shows “the highest respect for law.” Although MLK acted against the law, and is shoved into the darkness of the prison, the lightness seeping in the cell demonstrates his respect for his community and willingness to break the law to solve injustice.
This emphasizes the effort that prominent civil rights activists put into fighting injustice, even one of the main figureheads of the movement was willing to face jail time to create the change that he wanted. The black borders make it seem like he is being swallowed by the jail, but at the same time his posture, with his fists curled up and head held high-hand at the waist in a pose that exudes courage and strength. This gives me hope that his sacrifice is meaningful, and it stresses MLK’s ability to inspire people and stay strong in the face of opposition. The fact that this panel takes up the entire page also emphasizes the historical importance of MLK’s imprisonment and choice to sacrifice his own wellbeing in order to oppose unjust laws. The panel gives me a heightened understanding of the bravery it required to march in protest of segregation while knowing one could be arrested.
The depiction of Aretha Franklin singing at President Obama’s inauguration alongside smaller panels depicting past racial violence was, for me, the most powerful image in March. The page, inserted into the middle of Lewis’s telling of the particularly bloody encounters in Montgomery, juxtaposes the suffering that demonstrators of the Civil Rights Movement endured with what they were suffering for – a future in which a black man could be named president and a black woman could perform at the inauguration. In the middle of a story of the long, bloody fight against oppression, it provides a hopeful reminder of who won the fight. Still, it does not lose grip on memory and the scars left by racial brutality. Another important contrast exists between the words Aretha Franklin is singing and the sentiments expressed by the police officers and the violent protesters in the smaller panels. She sings about the US as a “land of liberty” and “freedom,” concepts which the men holding bats and Confederate flags clearly thought only applied to their own lives.
Not only does the main juxtaposition serve to highlight the progress that the country has made since the Civil Rights Movement, but it also reveals to me the multidimensionality of racial violence. For example, the image of the white child staring in horror at his bloody hands while an adult hand reassuringly places itself on his shoulder is indicative of an unnatural violation of conscience, reminding the reader that hatred is taught. Attached to this image, another image of two badly beaten demonstrators, one black and one white, holding each other up is a reminder of the involvement of white Americans on both sides of the segregational conflict. Furthermore, the pairing of the six smaller images together creates a deeper level of contrast – between the presence and practice of law enforcement, between the emotions of the perpetrator and the victims, and between the perpetrator’s actions and self-concepts (as shown in the panels on the bottom left).
It is also important to note the large size of Aretha Franklin on the page and her words that flow across the entire space, as well as the smaller size of the violent memories. The sizing places the reader in the moment in time on which the narrative briefly focuses, while keeping the reader’s mind on how that moment relates to what is happening in the story as a whole. Only a graphic novel could present this many contrasting images at the same time in such a coherent way.
The panel I selected depicts Birmingham police chief Eugene Connor’s reaction to the freedom riders bus being firebombed. An interview is being shown between a news reporter and Conner where Conner is asked, “Can you tell us why there were no Police officers present at the Birmingham bus station when the second bus finally did arrive?”. Connor replies to the question answering that it was “Mother’s Day” and “We try to let off as many of our Policemen as Possible.” This answer gives a clear image of the local government pushback civil rights activists faced in their demonstrations. Additionally, an increased understanding of how the media covered the Civil Rights Movement is gained from this panel. Chief Conner is displayed in a quite positive light, as he let the Police Officers off to celebrate Mother’s Day. This appears to the consumer as a genuine kind gesture, but the reality is Chief Conner let off the officers for a different reason. The reality was Conner was collaborating with the Ku Klux Klan and gave them 15 minutes with the bus before the police would get involved. This made me think of Dr. Wills lecture and emphasis on the reporter, the one documenting the story. The story is being told in a one-sided manner, where the focus of the reporting is not on showing the tragedy, but instead showing the man with blood on his hands in a positive light.
My first reaction when seeing these images was anger. A group of people fighting for their civil rights’ bus had been firebombed, a disgusting heinous act, and the man who is supposed to represent justice and the law had helped orchestrate this act aswell. At the top of the graphic a group of people is shown tuning in to the broadcast to hear the news and what they are being told is not close to the real story. To me Chief Conner is a villain, but to the tv viewer he does not appear this same way. This emphasizes the significant power that the news and those in power have on telling the story. They have the ability to tell the story how they desire, to leave things out, or put extra information in.
Page 108-9 depicts a scene in a Mississippi prison in which Freedom Riders who had been charged with Breach of the Peace, a broad legal term encompassing any acts that violently or noisily disturb the status quo, are released just days before their bond fees are due. The Freedom Riders had been tormented and dehumanized by the guards in the days preceding their release. However, during the time that their mattresses had been stripped, they had been hosed, and verbally accosted, they insisted that no treatment could remove their passion and their firm conviction in their beliefs.
The scene on the former half of the spread shows the Freedom Riders’ own surprise at their release. Their bond had been posted and their clothes and possessions were given back, perhaps symbolism nodding to the Riders rekindling their identity and individuality that had been stripped during their time inside prison. The ladder half of the spread shows the former prisoners walking on a winding road fading into the distance. There is a color contrast between the first and second page, the first using a black background and the second using a white background. I think the color contrast is meant to incite two things: freedom and hope. Freedom from the oppressive system and hope for progress. The narrations match this description as the second page talks about how their movement had become nationwide and how the federal government had become involved.
I think that these two pages convey an unprecedented and unexpected turn of events for the Freedom Riders. They had prepared themselves to deal with the taunts and borderline torture of prison and continuing their rides, but were instead granted release. An entirely new sense of gratification that they had never experienced in their time riding surfaced. To me, this seems like the turning point of the story. They had only been met with resistance up until now, but as the narrator says, they had “stirred the national consciousness and awoke[n] the hearts and minds of a generation.”
Unit 4 Post 2
Page 135 was centered around the Birmingham’s Children Crusade that took place on May 2, 1963. The series of pages before 135 contextualized the event, as kids from the city and surrounding areas took part in protesting for equal rights. As the panels and superimposed images suggest, the protest was highly chaotic with the opposition between the protestors and police; however, there was a sense of highly formulated planning by the protestors as “coded announcements” through black radio stations helped coordinate the event.
The image on 135 was especially moving for me, as I have often thought about children’s role in revolutions. Should kids be protected from the harshness of the real world and remain as innocent as possible for as long as they can, or, should they be exposed to violence and injustices at a young age to learn and understand their environment? From this panel, I finally understand the latter argument, as kids will be exposed to these acts of injustice and therefore should take part in protesting. The police asks the child what she wants, and the simplicity in her response reveals the fact that children can grasp the reality of the situation from such a young age. On her sign, the child holds the message “Can a man love God and hate his brother?” a message that haunts the air of protest and remains unanswered. The bolded word “embarrassment” reminds the reader that children are and should be a part of this, as it is their right to stand up for equality when their opposers have sunken to a level of disrespect.
The participation of Al Hibbler, a blind singer, in a Birmingham Civil Rights protest in 1963 demonstrates the immensity of this campaign. However, the graphic novel documenting his appearance, March, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell, illustrates the opposition that met his activism (126). While his removal by a police officer reinforces the significant role of this organization’s power in opposing the Civil Rights movement, the false pretense of altruism the officer displays creates severe irony. The officer’s pretending to care about Hibbler’s safety only highlights his own awareness of dangers in which an unjust system places these protestors. As such, the officer reveals his support for this system through this affirmation and through the implied actions that he takes against Hibbler. Nonetheless, this panel communicates the overarching nature of the protest, as one microscopic example, Hibbler’s activism, represents a macroscopic reality, systematic racial injustice. Philip Gourevitch, another scholar, utilizes the same approach, and, in both cases, conveying a larger truth through an individual story creates a stronger emotional connection with the audience. Notwithstanding, the severe power disparities shown through this episode’s individualized focus prove the flagrant racial inequality before the law at that time.
The visual depictions of Hibbler and the cop corroborate this stark power dynamic and its consequent implications for the inferior race’s rights. Hibbler, forced to bend down by a smug cop, thus appears much smaller and extremely powerless at the hands of this officer, who grins maliciously. The sizable difference in the visible statures of these two characters and the message on power it generates mirrors the significance of the top of the panel, overlooking the protest. This view from above suggests an overall disregard for this movement of those at which it directs its protests at this point in time, similar to the cop’s disregard for Hibbler as an equal. By underlining “never” in the cop’s statement, the authors emphasize its irony through his somewhat sarcastic somewhat blatantly dishonest assertion. The cop does not expect anyone to believe any truth to his claim, and he only makes it to reinforce his position of power through the overwhelmingly evident irony. Nobody besides those already protesting would have protested if he had taken Hibbler without saying anything. This dichotomy reflects the complete lack of rule of law at this time, which, although not yet complete, this revolution did successfully work to better.
In the image above, the way it is formated allows for the severity of the event to be more clearly understood. It is hard to fathom a child beating a grown adult, and it is even harder to imagine a mother supporting a child beating anyone. If I had just read this scene with no images, I would be shocked that the mother supported the boy beating someone up, but the image allows for me to comprehend the severity of the situation. In one text box a hand is almost grabbing at the reader, it feels as though it is reach for someone. And the face of the boy that the hand belongs to is even more terrifying. Although the boys face is smiling, his eyes look pure evil. He has one eyebrow slightly arched, allowing for the eye below it to be shaded just slightly with a slight glimmer. The glimmer is what is most terrifying about this panel. Typically when people describe others with a glimer, it is in reference to hope or happiness. In this case it may still have to do with happiness, and that is disturbing that such a young boy has hope for an unjust thing.
The words are not crisp, they are kid of squiggly with a hint of hand-written. This casual font allows for these text bubbles to have a different tone than a lot of the other text in the novel. A lot of the text in the novel is bold and in all capital letters, allowing for the tone of these bubbles to be different than the squiggly hand-written bubbles. The tone that these bubbles read is more violent and urgent, with mal-intent as a goal. I found it interesting that the text in these bubbles were lower case. Typically, in my eyes, I see all caps as excited or angry or urgent, a message with a lot of emotions. All lower case letters convey a calmer tone, something that can still have emotion but is not so urgent.
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.
Senator John Lewis dedicates much of his graphic novel to the Freedom Riders—with the perspective of both an outsider and a participant. Artist Nate Powell represents these different perspectives through a variety of graphic elements; such as full-page illustrations, text-based descriptions, and powerful representations of violence. Particularly powerful, the scene depicted on page 47 successfully conveys the tension, violence, and chaos of the Civil Rights Movement. The page illustrates various reactions to the news of flames engulfing the Freedom Riders’ bus in Anniston, Alabama. Lewis writes that he returned to Nashville to “attend a picnic to celebrate the fact the after fourteen weeks of stand-ins, the city’s theatre owners had finally agreed to desegregate” (46). However, the news of the burning bus interrupts the celebration. One panel depicts a radio with a static speech bubble quoting the news headlines. After this simple panel, chaos fills the next page. Speech bubbles, onomatopoeias, and movement fill the page. The radio remains a constant, telling Lewis and his friends of the dramatic event. This continuity emphasizes the significance of the fire on the Freedom Rides and its impact on other members of the Civil Rights Movement. Meanwhile, people rush to phones and clatter around to seek more information about the breaking news. Speech bubbles shout expressions of shock and concern: Hey! Turn it up! Hello? Yes? Harsh lines and angles slowly fade to softer shapes as the pandemonium calms. Unlike a purely textual description of Lewis’s response to the Freedom Riders’ burning bus, the pictorial depiction evokes a more emotionally connected response. The reader’s eye dashes across the page, prompting confused, concern reactions. The rhetoric of the imagery conveys a heightened understanding by forcing the reader to interact with and respond to the story. As a reader, I found the story more moving and empowering because of its imagery. The authors’ choice to tell Lewis’s experience with the Civil Rights Movement as a graphic novel demonstrates the power of expression without a dependency on text.
Mary Church Terrell:
Born 1863, daughter of former slaves. Part of the rising black middle and upper class. Used her position to fight racial discrimination. In 1892 a personal friend of hers was lynched and this sparked her activism. Whilst she did join Ida B. Wells-Barnett’s anti-lynching campaigns, she focused on ‘racial uplift’ that black people could end racial discrimination by advancing through society in education, work, community activism. Focused on equal opportunities. In 1896 founded NACW (National Association of Colored Women). She believed she belong to the only group in the country that had two huge obstacles to surmount – her sex and her race. At age 86 she protested segregated eating facilities, and in 1953 the Supreme Court ruled that they were indeed unconstitutional.
Ida B. Wells-Barnett:
Born into slavery in Mississippi in 1862. Her parents both became politically active in the Reconstruction Era politics. She also highly valued education like Mary Church Terrell. She enrolled in college but was expelled after starting a dispute with the college president. She dedicated herself to investigate mob violence and lynchings, and published findings in pamphlets and newspaper columns. She started receiving threats that eventually drove her out of the South and she moved to Chicago.
Although Ida B. Wells focused more on lynching, there are similarities between these women. They were both devout Christians and justified their ideas with their strong faith. Terrell seemed to focus more on what they could do to better themselves within the system and fight it from the inside, whereas Wells attacked the system and wanted results.
Born within a year of each other, Mary Church Terrell and Ida B. Wells lived in the period following the civil war in the midst of segregation, lynchings, hate crimes, and attempted reconstruction. Both were born in the South, Terrell in Tennessee and Wells in Mississippi, and both attained a higher education despite the odds being stacked against them. Their careers comprised of different types of activism against issues that respectively effected them; Terrell was an intersectionalist whose focused on empowering black women whereas Wells focused on uncovering and exposing lynchings through her investigative work.
Terrell was a Methodist and Episcopalian. She founded the African Methodist Episcopal church in Ohio as well as another Methodist church in the state. Terrell primarily focused on the advantages that White women had at the expense of Black women. The power imbalance and the concurrent racial violence was the target of Terrell’s work. She believed that better education would lead to an equal social standing between races and that community empowerment was the most effective way of achieving these goals.
Wells was a Catholic. Her investigative journalistic work attempted to trace the alleged reasoning behind lynchings that took place in the South. Unsurprisingly, an immense amount of the lynchings she investigated were committed on unfounded reasons if there were any reasons at all. She believed that if the menace of racial mob violence was exposed to the public eye, there would be more support in favor of reforming segregationist and racist policy.