FROM MORNING to nightfall, Rep. John Lewis today is celebrating the strides made in “the story of our history.”

Lewis (D-Ga.) is himself a storyteller, helping to create an Eisner-winning graphic-novel trilogy, “March,” which relays to young readers what the civil rights movement felt, sounded and looked like.

More than a half-century ago, Lewis was the youngest speaker in the March on Washington. Today, at 76, he is back on the Mall to help open the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. And this evening, for the National Book Festival’s Graphic Novel Night at D.C.’s Walter E. Washington Convention Center, he and co-author Andrew Aydin will sit with The Washington Post’s Comic Riffs to talk about his commitment to telling his story through word and picture.

Ahead of today’s 5 p.m. talk, Comic Riffs caught up with Lewis to talk about the museum, his history and our nation’s future:

Michael Cavna: On Saturday, you’re on hand for the historic debut of the national African American Museum, and then you’ll spread the gospel of “March” at the book festival. Is there one message that you will especially … share on this day?

Lewis: On this day, as [we] open the African American Museum, I will never forget — as we behold this beautiful, magnificent building — [that this is] the story of our history, from the days of slavery to the present, that changes America and our society forever. Part of this story is in “March.” It is the story of my life, and I’m so pleased that hundreds and thousands of people will not only have an opportunity to walk through pieces of our history, as they visit the museum, but they will also be inspired to stand up, speak out, as they read “March: Book One,” “Book Two” and “Book Three.”

MC: Amid turbulence in this nation over lines of division, you have long lived along those social fault lines and have worked so hard to heal the divisiveness and bridge those differences. What do you say to a young person today who seeks words of wisdom and experience and illumination? 

JL: I [tell] young people today that when you confront something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do what you can to change it — to make it better, to right a wrong, to bring about justice and fairness, [moving] … to a better place and helping to create a loving community and helping to redeem the soil of America.

MC: Many book festival attendees will be young, just as “March” has appealed to so many young readers. When a young person new to “March” picks it up for the first time, what do you hope she or he might take away from the narrative — perhaps learn or understand like a beacon?

JL: I hope and pray that a young person picking up “March” will be deeply inspired to move, and to learn that another generation of young people [once] did what they could to bring us to where we are today. And that they must pick up where [their predecessors] left off and must carry the torch further down that road.

MC: As a teenager reading the comics, did you dream you might be a best-selling comics creator yourself, let alone one who writes about civil rights and the fight for freedom?

JL: I never had any idea or any dream that one day I would participate in writing a comic book or graphic novel that … is told by a gifted writer like Andrew Aydin, and portrayed in comic form by artist Nate Powell.

MC: Is it time for the White House to appoint not just an arts czar, but also a graphics-education czar — and if so, who should first fill that role?

JL: I would love to see the White House appoint an arts czar and [then] maybe some way, somehow, a cartoonist or comic writer could be part of the office of the arts czar. Maybe it’s time for America to wake up and see that comic graphics are one of the best ways to communicate to a lot of America. I believe young people, the children, get it. More and more, young people are reading comics. They pay attention to the illustration. They like action. They like drama. And maybe it’s a better way to help educate and inspire all of our young people.

I remember when I was young, I had a teacher in elementary school. She told me: “Read, my child. Read.” And I tried to read everything.

Note: Comic Riffs will emcee Graphic Novel Night (5 to 10 p.m.) as part of the National Book Festival, which runs throughout Saturday at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. The Washington Post is a charter sponsor of the festival. 

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