Today's blog entry begins as "March, Book One" begins, on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, where a peaceful march was attacked, first by Alabama State Troopers, then, as the police stood by, by a group of racist thugs and vigilantes.
The marchers dropped to their knees and prayed as they were beaten, but somehow it seems, today, those who did not live through those days, or who did not pay attention in those days, find prayer and nonviolence humorous, and make jokes about the impractical foolishness of joining hands and singing.
We use "Kumbaya" as a metaphor for pointless idealism.
And yet the people who followed that spirit moved some of the largest mountains in our nation's history, and triumphed over an unthinking racism and cruel "me first" attitude that is now, in their grandchildren's generation, rising once more triumphant.
"March" could not be better timed for release, and its lessons could not be more crucial.
It is not perfect: It is lacks the intensity and engrossing presence of "Maus,"and it isn't as reflective in its internal dialogues as "Fun Home."
But it tells its story well, and there is an intimacy in John Lewis's narrative that helps to clarify and personalize those moments of dynamic courage and immeasurable sacrifice that have come down to us as bland, rote facts in a history book or a by-the-numbers documentary film.
We've seen the pictures of water fountains marked "colored" and "white," but somehow it matters more when Lewis describes the simple but blatantly unfair divide between going to school as a white boy in Alabama, and going to school as a black boy, and overlays the facts with the disheartening, constant, relentless day-to-day revelations of the indignity of life under Jim Crow.
The daily requirement to yield the sidewalk to a white man, to drink out of the colored fountain, to sit -- by the living God -- to sit in the balcony at church, at CHURCH, because black people could not sit among white people in the presence of the Lord, those constant drummings of inequality were only a part of life.
There were more toxic elements present, and everyone knew them, or learned them, or paid the price for not knowing and learning them.
When young John goes on a trip to the north with his uncle, he learns that his world is not just a place of constant insults, but of danger as well, and this is not back in the ancient days, but in the Fifties and Sixties, in an age when America prided itself on a life that looked like Ozzie and Harriet, and in which Betty Furness offered refrigerators to everyone, and if you were Queen For A Day, you might also get a washer and dryer.
But if you were a black person driving through the South, you might not live to finish your trip.
Someone -- and someone nearing 40, not a child -- asked me the other day why movements today don't seem to have the feel of the Civil Rights Movement or the Antiwar Movement, and I said it was because those movements were led by giants.
First, the Civil Rights Movement, which was built over decades, starting in the modern era from World War I, when black soldiers went to France, discovered the reality of living a dignified life of acceptance, and then came home to lynch mobs determined to keep them in their place, so that, when the next war came, the black press spearheaded the "Double V" campaign -- Victory first over the Axis, but then victory over Jim Crow.
The discipline, the purpose, the sense of direction that came from that movement translated to the antiwar movement, many of whose leaders had cut their teeth on voter registration drives in the South, where they learned a method of effective revolution that perhaps you had to be present to comprehend.
In the summer of 1967, I worked in a kitchen with several Southern black men, two of whom were college students involved in the movement and whose aunts and uncles had been active even earlier.
They told me of the training required before you went on a demonstration, but it is something I had only heard vague allusions to until now, when it turns up in "March."
In the early days, it was not "come one, come all." Marching and sitting in were not for everyone. Not everyone had the discipline. And everybody who did want to go first had to be trained in nonviolence, not just in learning to avoid reacting, but learning to avoid hating.
And the battles they marched to, they did not seek. They did not resist arrest, but neither did they provoke it. They sat at the lunch counter, they asked to be served, and, once refused, they left. They were so filled with spirit and with power that they had the strength to do nothing other than bear witness, and to bear the abuse, and to thus become greater and holier than their oppressors.
If I have a criticism of the book, it is that I wish it were fatter, that it went further down the road to freedom. It ends in 1960, when the story, which had taken a century to begin, has barely started.
The next volume cannot come too soon.