He’s the living embodiment of Nashville’s role in the civil rights movement. And this weekend, Georgia Congressman John Lewis will receive the city’s top literary award for chronicling those years in his graphic novel trilogy, called “March.”
The first book in the series is also Mayor Megan Barry’s selection for this year’s citywide read.
As Lewis tells it, he was guided toward Nashville by fate. He enrolled at American Baptist College in 1957 at age 17.
“I fell in love with this city,” he told a crowd at the Nashville Public Library in 2004. “But I didn’t like segregation. I didn’t like racial discrimination. And I wanted to do something about it, but I didn’t know what to do.”
He would learn. Before participating in the Freedom Rides, and speaking at the March on Washington, Lewis learned the philosophy of nonviolent protest as part of local workshops. Along with Martin Luther King Jr., Lewis says nonviolence had its most committed proponents in Nashville.
And he was among the students who integrated Nashville’s lunch counters through sit-ins — as well as enduring beatings while making the same change at movie theaters.
“When I was growing up, my mother always told me: ‘Don’t get in the way. Don’t get in the way. Don’t get in trouble,’ ” Lewis said. “But when I came to Nashville, I got in the way. I got in trouble.”
Among his “trouble” was his first arrest as a demonstrator — in February 1960. He would go on to proudly tally about 40 more arrests before becoming a congressman.
Many of those moments play out in Lewis’s trilogy, “March,” co-written with Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell. The final installment arrived this summer.
Lewis will discuss the book and his experiences at 10 a.m. Saturday at Martin Luther King Academic Magnet. The event is free, and a large crowd is expected.
He will then receive the 2016 Nashville Literary Award from the Nashville Public Library and its supporting foundation.