Unit 4: Assignment 2 by Gwenyth Van Doren

The excerpt I have chosen for close study are pages 80 and 81 in March 2. The pages depict Aretha Franklin singing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” at President Obama’s first inauguration. The location and date of the picture are provided in text in the upper left hand corner of the page. I assumed it was President Obama’s first inauguration because that has been the backdrop of John Lewis’ experience of the Freedom Rides and the March on Washington throughout the book. However, I looked up the woman and the lyrics to find out who she was and what patriotic song she was singing. 

The song lyrics are spread out in speech bubbles that span both pages and are written in large capital letters and denoted with a music note. However, the song lyrics start on the previous page and finish on the next page. Also, there are 5 small panels that depict scenes from when the Freedom Riders were attacked by a racist mob outside of the Montgomery Greyhound Bus Station on May 20, 1961. The panels include images of bloodied (and probably dead) Freedom Riders, a bloodied hand from an attacker, two attackers (one with a Confederate flag) smiling at each other, the hand on the shoulder of a boy who participated in the attack, and an officer casually lighting a cigarette. 

The juxtaposition of Aretha Franklin and the lyrics she is singing with the scenes from the attack are jarring. It is a reminder to the reader of what has happened in order for change, like the first black US president, to occur. However, despite Obama’s election, people still debate on how much change there actually has been. Even though the artist draws Aretha as singing these lyrics of freedom and liberty with conviction, it is hard to think they are true when the scenes accompanying it could easily be scenes of police brutality today. I mean, one of the scenes is an officer casually smoking a cigarette despite the bloodshed that occurred and bloodshed he could have easily participated in. While these pages can invoke a sense of optimism because it appears that all that bloodshed meant something, it calls into question if those lyrics are even applicable to black people today. These pages made me as the reader feel optimistic and critical at the same time. I think it is important to recognize accomplishments when they happen, but also to recognize that more work needs to be done still.

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