Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story

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Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story
Cover of Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story
Publication information
Publisher Fellowship of Reconciliation
Format One-shot
Genre non-fiction
Publication date December 1957
No. of issues 1
Main character(s) Martin Luther King, Jr.
Coretta Scott King
Rosa Parks
Mahatma Gandhi
Creative team
Written by Alfred Hassler and Benton Resnik
Artist(s) Sy Barry

Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story is a 16-page comic book about Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott published in 1957 by the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR USA). It advocates the principles of nonviolence and provides a primer on nonviolent resistance.[1]

Although ignored by the mainstream comics industry, The Montgomery Story was widely distributed among civil rights groups, churches, and schools. It helped inspire nonviolent protest movements around the Southern United States, and later in Latin America, South Africa,[2] the Middle East, and elsewhere. In addition, it served as the inspiration for the best-selling, award-winning March trilogy, written by Georgia Congressman John Lewis.[1]

Publication history[edit]

Following the success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which FOR USA had helped organize, executive secretary and director of publications[2] Alfred Hassler,[3] and FoR member the Rev. Glenn E. Smiley came up with the idea of using a comic book to bring the story of the bus boycott to a wide audience. (Smiley had been personally active in the bus boycott, and had formed a friendship with Dr. King.)[2] Presenting the comic idea as a way to reach wider audiences (including those with lower reading levels),[2] the group acquired grant funding of $5,000 for the project[4] from the Fund for the Republic.[2] Dr, King himself endorsed the book and even provided a few editorial suggestions.[5]

Cartoonist Al Capp was an admirer of Dr. King; his studio produced Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story at no charge,[3] which was co-written by Hassler and Benton Resnik, and drawn by an uncredited artist.[5] (Benton Resnick had been an editor and writer for the Al Capp-owned comics companies Toby Press and Graphic Information Services.)[2] The artist has since been confirmed to be Sy Barry[6] by artist James Romberger. It was published in December 1957 in full-color with a cover price of 10 cents. 250,000 copies were printed.[4]

Instead of the typical distribution network for comics in those days, which were newsstands, pharmacies, and candy stores, The Montgomery Story was distributed by the Fellowship of Reconciliation[7][8] among civil rights groups, churches, and schools. It was also promoted in pro-Civil Rights publications such as National Guardian and Peace News.[2] FoR staff members, particularly Jim Lawson (an African American divinity student at Vanderbilt University)[9] and Glenn Smiley, traveled through the South, giving workshops on nonviolence. They would distribute the comic to younger attendees as something to take with them and study.[5] Some African Americans memorized and destroyed the comic to avoid being lynched for having it in their possession.[citation needed]

At some point not long after its original publication, FoR produced a Spanish version of the comic for distribution throughout Latin America.[2] Instead of using the same art as the English edition, the Spanish version is a complete copy of the original, drawn by a different artist.[2][10] 125,000 copies were printed, but only a handful of copies of the Spanish version still exist.[10]

Revival[edit]

In 2004 comic book artist, writer and historian Tom Christopher researched the King comic and posted the article, which included art samples of both the English and Spanish versions, on his website. Christopher had previously documented the publication of All-Negro Comics (1947) and the Golden Legacy and Fast Willie Jackson series (1976), and those articles included information on other comics such as Negro Heroes and Negro Romance. Christopher described Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story not in terms of being a rare or obscure comic but as an historic document, placing it in the political context of the times and explaining non-violence as a workable tool for social change. Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story became a major attraction on his website, and the next Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide listed the book for the first time.[citation needed]

By 2006, there were only a handful of copies of Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story left in existence.[4][11] That year, cartoonist/archivist Ethan Persoff scanned an original copy of the comic and posted it on his blog for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.[10] In 2008, Persoff reported that the Cairo director of the American Islamic Congress (AIC) had translated the scanned comic into Arabic and Persian. The AIC's HAMSA (Hands Across the Mideast Support Alliance) initiative printed 2,500 copies of the translated comic, distributing them throughout Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Yemen.[4][12]

Until 2012, no history of Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story had been written, and most versions of how the comic was created listed Al Capp as the actual creator. As part of his graduate degree at Georgetown University, Andrew Aydin wrote the first long-form history of The Montgomery Story as his graduate thesis. With the help of Carlow University Professor Dr. Sylvia Rhor and comic book icon Eddie Campbell, Aydin established most of what we know about the comic's creation and use. In August 2013, Aydin published a shortened version of his thesis as the feature article in Creative Loafing's award-winning "Future of Nonviolence" issue, which was guest-edited by Congressman John Lewis and Aydin.[13][14]

In 2013, Top Shelf Productions published an authorized re-issue of the comic, with all proceeds going to the Fellowship of Reconciliation.[5]

Plot[edit]

The comic opens with a one-page synopsis of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life and education up until 1957.

The narrative then shifts to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1954. An African American man named Jones tells of life in Montgomery under Jim Crow laws. He describes the events of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the important role played by Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. In the story, King advocates nonviolence, even when his own home is bombed during the boycott.

The last section of the comic discusses the "Montgomery Method" of nonviolence, its roots in the activism of Mahatma Gandhi, and provides practical advice on how to pursue nonviolent activism.

Legacy[edit]

Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story influenced other civil rights activists, including the Greensboro Four.[2][15]

Thanks to the 2008 American Islamic Congress HAMSA initiative, thousands of copies of the Arabic and Persian version of the comic were distributed to democracy advocates throughout the Middle East. When the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 broke out, U.S. Representative John Lewis credited the mass-distribution of the 50-year-old comic as a contributing element in the Egyptian protests.[11][12]

A hard copy of the Spanish edition of the comic is housed in the National Museum of African American History and Culture, part of the Smithsonian Institution.[11]

March[edit]

Georgia Congressman John Lewis read Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story as a teenager. The comic book demonstrated in clear fashion to Lewis the power of the philosophy and the discipline of nonviolence. Later, as he attended weekly meetings with students from Fisk University, Tennessee State University, Vanderbilt University, and American Baptist College to discuss nonviolent protest, The Montgomery Story served as one of their guides.[15] Lewis went on to become an important activist during the Civil Rights Movement.

While working on his 2008 reelection campaign, Lewis told his telecommunications and technology policy aide, Andrew Aydin, about The Montgomery Story and its influence.[15] Aydin tracked down a copy of the comic (which had long since fallen out of print), and thought that Lewis' own story would make strong material for comic book treatment:

Once he told me about it, and I connected those dots that a comic book had a meaningful impact on the early days of the Civil Rights Movement, and in particular on young people, it just seemed self-evident. If it had happened before, why couldn't it happen again?[15]

Aydin repeatedly suggested that Lewis himself write a comic book, and eventually Lewis decided to commit to the project, on the condition that Aydin write it with him.[16] The award-winning March trilogy, written by Lewis & Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell, and published beginning in 2013 by Top Shelf Productions, is the result.[17][18]

Awards[edit]

Top Shelf's authorized re-issue of Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story won the 2014 Glyph Comics Award for Best Reprint Publication.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

General references[edit]

Inline citations[edit]

  1. ^ a b Bello. Grace. "A Comic Book for Social Justice: John Lewis," Publishers Weekly (July 19, 2012).
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Aydin, Andrew. "The comic book that changed the world: Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story's vital role in the Civil Rights Movement," Creative Loafing (Aug. 1, 2013).
  3. ^ a b Forest, Jim (former FoR Publication Director). Comment on Ethan Persoff's blog (2011): "The author of the text and the man who had the idea for the comic was Al Hassler, executive secretary of FOR USA. He convinced comic artist Al Capp of the value of the project. Capp's studio did the drawings gratis."
  4. ^ a b c d Love, David A. "Egyptians draw inspiration from Civil Rights Movement comic book." The Grio (February 2, 2011).
  5. ^ a b c d Mark, Banaszak. "THE COMIC THAT INSPIRED A MOVEMENT: Andrew Aydin on Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story," Previews World (June 3, 2015).
  6. ^ "Big Apple Con report—finally revealed: the artist of the Martin Luther King Jr. comic". The Beat. 2018-04-16. Retrieved 2018-04-22. 
  7. ^ Karlin, Susan. "THE RETURN OF A COMIC THAT HELPED INSPIRE THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT," Fast Company (Nov. 13, 2013).
  8. ^ "Al Capp's Martin Luther King Comic," Comicon.com's The Pulse (March 7, 2010). Archived March 22, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  9. ^ Lewis, John, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell. March: Book One (Top Shelf Productions, 2013), p. 76.
  10. ^ a b c Persoff, Ethan. "The 1956 International Bilingual Dr Martin Luther King Jr Comic Book Message," Ethan Persoff's blog (early January 2006).
  11. ^ a b c Persoff, Ethan. "OUR WEBSITE'S WORK USED IN WIDE-SPREAD EGYPTIAN PEACE CAMPAIGN" Ethan Persoff blog (February 3–15, 2011).
  12. ^ a b Persoff, Ethan. "HOW EP.TC IS UNINTENTIONALLY CONTRIBUTING TO WORLD PEACE," Ethan Persoff's blog (March 27, 2008).
  13. ^ Aydin, Andrew (August 1, 2013). "The comic book that changed the world". Creative Loafing. Retrieved 7 July 2015. 
  14. ^ Michaud, Debbie; Williams, Wyatt (August 1, 2013). "Congressman John Lewis takes over Creative Loafing". Creative Loafing. Retrieved 7 July 2015. 
  15. ^ a b c d Hughes, Joseph (September 16, 2013). "Congressman John Lewis And Andrew Aydin Talk Inspiring The ‘Children Of The Movement’ With ‘March’ (Interview)" Archived 2013-09-18 at the Wayback Machine.. Comics Alliance.
  16. ^ Herbowy, Greg (Fall 2014). "Q+A: Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell". Visual Arts Journal. School of Visual Arts. pp. 48 - 51
  17. ^ "Coretta Scott King Book Awards - All Recipients, 1970-Present". American Library Association. Retrieved December 4, 2014.
  18. ^ MacDonald, Heidi (May 21, 2014). "March Book One is first graphic novel to win the RFK Book Award". Comics Beat.

External links[edit]