U.S. Representative and civil rights activist John Lewis is making history again, this time as one of the recipients of the 2016 National Book Awards, for the graphic novel March: Book Three. This marks the first time a comic or graphic novel has won the prestigious literary award.
However, as Lewis noted in his acceptance speech at the awards ceremony Wednesday night, the moment was significant for another reason.
“I remember in 1956 when I was 16 years old, with some of my brothers and sisters and cousins, going down to the public library and trying to get library cards,” recalled the congressman with tears in his eyes. “We were told that libraries were for ‘whites only’ and not for ‘coloreds.’ To come here and receive this award, this honor, is too much.”
In March, Lewis — along with co-writer Andrew Aydin and illustrator Nate Powell — shared a firsthand account of his involvement with the civil rights movement. The final installment in a trilogy, Book Three follows a then-25-year-old Lewis and other young activists’ attempts to carry out a nonviolent revolution, as they campaigned for racial equality in the early ’60s, before culminating in the titular march from Selma to Montgomery.
Aydin also commented on the importance of Wednesday night’s win: “There are two important lessons from this. One, is the story of the movement be told. We all must know it if we are to understand the politics of today. And to let the prejudice against comic books be buried once and for all.”
You can watch Lewis and Aydin’s speeches above.