Monday, January 18, 2021

Martin Luther King and The Montgomery Story Comic Book With Art by Sy Barry



Martin Luther King and The Montgomery Story was published in 1957 and told the story, in comic book format, of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. It began with Rosa Parks and ended with demonstrations led by Martin Luther King, Jr. The nonviolent protests took over a year, and were successful in ending the discrimination on the bus lines. 

Fast forward to 1961: Hollis Watkins and Curtis Elmer Hayes "refused to disperse" at a segregated Mississippi Woolworth's lunch counter and were arrested for violating Jim Crow laws. This one nonviolent protest began a series of sit-ins throughout the South. Both Watkins and Hayes had a copy of the comic book in their pockets at the time of their arrest. 

From the History site:

"The idea for the comic book came from Alfred Hassler, publications director for the Fellowship of Reconciliation, an interfaith social justice organization that promotes nonviolent activism. The publishing format was an unusual choice not only because the fellowship had no experience publishing comic books, but because comic books were detested by many Americans in the 1950s as a corrupting influence on the morals of America’s youth. 

"In 1954, a U.S. Senate subcommittee held televised hearings on the link between comic books and juvenile delinquency, and schools and civic organizations staged bonfire burnings of 'lurid' comic books. Even Hassler himself forbade his children from reading them. Still, he saw the medium’s value in reaching a different, younger audience than a conventional book. 

"'It was incredibly courageous to make a comic book at that time, but also more possible than ever for an organization like the Fellowship of Reconciliation to work with top-notch illustrators,' says Andrew Aydin, who wrote his master’s thesis on the history and impact of Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story. 'The people who worked on it were driven out of the comic book industry by associating and working with some of the companies targeted by the hearings.'

"Hassler and Benton Resnik co-wrote the text, while artist Sy Barry, best known for his work on The Phantom comic strip, illustrated the book. King, himself, not only approved of the project, but made small editorial changes to the script. The text detailed the bus boycott and included practical instruction on how activists could u the nonviolent 'Montgomery Method' of protest to bring about social change."

Over a quarter million copies were initially distributed to churches and school and civil rights groups.  The comic was cited as inspiring the battle against apartheid in South Africa.

You can read the Martin Luther King and The Montgomery Story comic here.

I only recently discovered that my friend and fellow Berndt Toast Gang member Sy Barry was the artist for this seminal comic book. His signature can be seen in the first printing, but an added text box covers it in later reprints.

Sy has just recently moved from his longtime Long Island home to Massachusetts to be closer to his family. I sent him a copy of the Maine cartoon book I edited as a "welcome to New England" gift. So wonderful to see Sy's work remembered and, even in the 21st century, an impactful part of this comic from 1957. 

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