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Wednesday, August 20,2014

One book, one community

A conversation with John Lewis to cover race struggles in the U.S.

by Bill Castanier
Today’s news is tomorrow’s history.

This season’s One Book, One Community lineup will challenge readers to see history with the fresh eyes lest we forget.

Monday the season kicks off with a Civil Rights legend┤s ugly but inspirational story.

Georgia Congressman John Lewis will address incoming MSU freshmen before kicking off the book program that evening at 7 p.m. at the Hannah Community Center. Both events are free and open to the public.

Lewis will take them to a time 50 years ago when segregation, beatings, bombings and brutality were the norm in the “Black Belt” of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. He will charge them with making a difference in the world they live today.

The iconic leader will speak, along with his co-author Andrew Aydin and illustrator Nate Powell, about his graphic novel “March: Book One.”

The month-long One Book, One Community program invites the city and university community to read one book and come together to discuss it. The program started in 2002 and is a joint effort of the city of East Lansing and Michigan State University.

This year’s selection is focusing on race in America.

One Book, One Community is also featuring Ryan Coogler, director of “Fruitvale Station,” on Sept. 2. The third in the series is NPR contributor and journalist Michele Norris, and her memoir “Race Card” on Sept. 15. Details are available at www.onebookeastlansing.com.

Aydin, who is also on Lewis’ staff, said the style and format of “March” are a throwback to a 1957 comic book about the life of Martin Luther King Jr.

A comic geek, Aydin was inspired to approach Lewis with the idea of doing a graphic novel to tell his own story.

“March: Book One,” the first book of a trilogy follows Lewis through his youth and the early days of the civil rights movement.

The second installment will take readers from desegregation activities in Nashville in 1960 to two weeks after the March on Washington when the Alabama church bombing took the lives of four little girls.

Aydin said, “We wanted to make a direct connection between the March on Washington and the resulting agitation.”

The third book will cover what has come to be called “Freedom Summer,” when nearly 800 young, mostly white, Americans traveled to Mississippi to register voters and hold Freedom Schools.

Freedom Summer volunteers underwent a rigorous training session in Ohio, which underlined that they could be arrested, beaten or worse.

“Freedom Summer is not appreciated enough,” Aydin said, in a telephone interview. “And more people should know about it.”

For the Freedom Summer participants “worse” came very quickly when on June 21,1964 three participants, a black man, James Chaney, and two white men, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, went missing. Members lived under the cloud of fear all summer. In late August their bodies were discovered buried in shallow graves.

MSU History Professor emeritus Norm Pollack travelled to the South in 1964 to lend a hand to the effort. He recalls being on the same road as the martyred freedom workers and being told not stand in front of a window with the shade pulled and the lights on.

“You make a target,” he said.

Pollack said he believes his activism cost him his job as a junior professor at Yale.

After learning of the selection of “March” for the One Book One Community series, two East Lansing activists, John Duley, 93, and Robert Green, 80, decided to add their voices to the civil rights conversation with an event, “Conversations about race,” that will extend the view to East Lansing during the 1960s.

Green, a longtime friend of Lewis, called “East Lansing a mighty tight place for racial relations” during that era.

Duley and Green traveled to Canton, Miss. in 1964 for a Freedom Rally led by Jim Farmer, co-founder of the Congress of Racial Equality and organizer of the Freedom Riders.

Green, who is black, was an MSU professor and later dean of MSU’s College of Urban Development. Duley was a campus minister, and white. They said they both understood the dangers of traveling together in the deep South.

Duley and Green continued their civil rights activism in East Lansing when they returned. Green could not own a home in East Lansing due to racist real estate practices. He and his family would ultimately become the first African-American homeowners in the city, after East Lansing adopted an open-housing ordinance. In 1965, Green would take a leave of absence from MSU to become the national educational director for the Southern Leadership Conference and a confidant of Dr. King.

Duley said the goal of “Conversations about race,” is to create a record about the civil rights movement in East Lansing.

“There is a lack of any public record, and we will be facilitating conversations about that period,” he said.

The “Conversations about Race” will be held at 7 p.m. Aug. 24 at the Village Network Center at Edgewood Village in East Lansing, 6213 Towar Gardens Circle.

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