Read Martin Luther King and The Montgomery Story: The Influential 1957 Civil Rights Comic Book


From the para­noid fun­da­men­tal­ist tracts of Jack Chick, to Ronald McDon­ald pro­mot­ing scout­ing, to an upcom­ing graph­ic nov­el explain­ing the sci­ence of cli­mate change, comics and graph­ic nov­els have long been a means of both pros­e­ly­tiz­ing and inform­ing, con­dens­ing com­plex nar­ra­tives into a digestible for­mat with broad appeal. The medi­um is so elas­tic, it can seem­ing­ly adapt itself to any kind of sto­ry, even the most sober­ly seri­ous and his­tor­i­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant. For exam­ple, Geor­gia Con­gress­man John Lewis, vet­er­an of the Civ­il Rights move­ment, chose to tell his story—in col­lab­o­ra­tion with co-writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell—as a graph­ic nov­el called March (mak­ing him the first law­mak­er to appear at a Com­ic-Con). Part one of three was pub­lished late last year and rose to the top of the New York Times and Wash­ing­ton Post best­seller lists. March has also become an impor­tant resource for teach­ers and librar­i­ans (down­load a free 11-page teach­ers guide from pub­lish­er Top Shelf here).


Lewis’ choice of medi­um may seem moti­vat­ed by the cur­rent esteem in which the form is held in schol­ar­ly and pop­u­lar cir­cles alike, but he was pri­mar­i­ly influ­enced by a much ear­li­er civ­il rights com­ic book, Mar­tin Luther King and the Mont­gomery Sto­ry. (See cov­er up top. Read it online here.) Begun just five months after Rosa Parks’ his­toric refusal, the com­ic aimed to dis­sem­i­nate the epic tale of the Mont­gomery, AL bus boy­cott through­out the South. A sec­tion called “The Mont­gomery Method” (first page above) instructs read­ers on the non­vi­o­lent resis­tance tech­niques employed by civ­il rights work­ers in Alaba­ma, with a primer on Gand­hi and his influ­ence on King. In the short video below, see NYU pro­fes­sor and King schol­ar Sylvia Rhor explain the gen­e­sis of the com­ic in the work of Alfred Has­sler, then leader of Civ­il Rights orga­ni­za­tion Fel­low­ship of Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. Has­sler, a lit­tle-known fig­ure who died in 1991, is now receiv­ing more recog­ni­tion through sim­i­lar means. He him­self recent­ly became the sub­ject of a graph­ic nov­el project (and now doc­u­men­tary) called The Secret of the 5 Pow­ers about his work with Bud­dhist peace activists Thich Nhat Hanh and Sis­ter Chan Khong dur­ing the Viet­nam War.

As Rhor notes above, the King com­ic has had tremen­dous influ­ence, not only in the past, and not only on Rep. Lewis in the present. In 2003–2004, The Mont­gomery Sto­ry was trans­lat­ed into Ara­bic, and Egypt­ian rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies dur­ing the Arab Spring found inspi­ra­tion in the com­ic book that “turned Mar­tin Luther King into a super­hero”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

200,000 Mar­tin Luther King Papers Go Online

MLK’s Last Days and Final Speech

Nichelle Nichols Tells Neil deGrasse Tyson How Mar­tin Luther King Con­vinced Her to Stay on Star Trek

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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