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TRIBUNE PHOTO: PETER WONG - U.S. Rep. John Lewis was at Powell's City of Books Saturday signing copy of 'March,' Book 2, part of planned three-part graphic novel about the civil rights movement and his role in it.John Lewis says the recent shootings in Charleston, S.C., show that race relations in the United States still have a long way to go.


But Lewis also says the presence of himself and President Barack Obama at a memorial service for one of the nine victims is also significant.

“If someone had told me when I was growing up … that one day, I would be on a plane with the first African American president, I would have said you were crazy, you were out of your mind,” Lewis told a crowd Saturday at Powell’s City of Books. “We have come a distance. We have made progress. But we’re not done yet. We have work to do.”

As a U.S. representative from Georgia for almost 30 years, Lewis was on Air Force One with Obama, who gave the eulogy Friday for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a state senator and pastor at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Pinckney and eight others were gunned down in the church June 17; a 21-year-old self-professed white supremacist is the suspect in custody.

Lewis, 75, was in Portland to promote the second installment of “March,” a three-part graphic novel that tells his story — and the story of the civil rights movement — through congressional approval of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“I hope it inspires a new generation to make a way out of no way,” Lewis said.

He was in Portland in 2014 to promote the first volume.

“There will be a Book Three,” he said.

The second volume covers Lewis’ participation in the student sit-ins at lunch counters in 1960 and the Freedom Riders on interstate buses in 1961 — both aimed at ending segregation in public accommodations in the South — and in the March on Washington in 1963.

Back then, Lewis was a student at Fisk University and then chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He is the last surviving speaker from the Aug. 28, 1963, March on Washington.

“We were trying to redeem the soul of America,” he said.

“March” is a different way of telling the story that Lewis wrote about in his 1998 memoir, “Walking with the Wind.”

The inspiration for the graphic novel came from Andrew Aydin, digital director and policy adviser for Lewis in his Washington, D.C., office, who accompanied his boss on this trip.

Aydin, who was Lewis’ campaign press secretary in 2008, drew laughter from the campaign staff when he said he was planning to go to a post-election comics convention.

There was one exception: Lewis.

Lewis recalled that when he was a teenager in the 1950s, he drew inspiration from a 14-page comic book titled, “The Montgomery Story,” which told the story of the bus boycott that brought Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. to prominence. (King himself edited the product.)

“For this generation, what they know about the civil rights movement comes down to nine words: Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and ‘I have a dream,’” Aydin said, referring to King’s speech that closed the 1963 March.

Aydin said Lewis finally agreed to write a graphic novel if Aydin would be his co-author. The illustrator is Nate Powell.

When the first volume came out, Ayden said a reporter from a conservative newspaper that he would not name offered a surprising reaction from the reporter’s son.

“He said: I gave it to my 9-year-old, and now he is marching around my house and demanding equality for everyone,” Aydin said. “Imagine if we could do that with every 9-year-old.”

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