With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

The MLK Graphic Novel That Inspired Generations of Civil Rights Activists

Shortly after noon on August 26, 1961, Hollis Watkins and Curtis Elmer Hayes filled two vacant stools at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in McComb, Mississippi. When the two African American students were refused service at the segregated dining spot, police arrested the pair for failing to “disperse and move on” in violation of Jim Crow laws.

Both men carried copies of a 10-cent comic book that had long been circulating among young civil rights activists. A year earlier, the 16-page comic had inspired Ezell Blair and his roommate, Joseph McNeill to stage boycotts in Greensboro, North Carolina. Days after reading it, they and two other North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College students refused to give up their seats at a Greensboro Woolworth’s lunch counter, launching the sit-in movement across the South.

The comic book that helped spark a generation of young civil rights protestors did not feature superheroes, but a 42-year-old seamstress and a 26-year-old Baptist pastor. Printed in 1957, Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story recounts the 13-month Montgomery Bus Boycott, which began after police arrested civil rights activist Rosa Parks for refusing to yield her bus seat to a white man. The successful protest that ended segregation on Montgomery’s buses propelled the young pastor who led the movement, Martin Luther King, Jr., to national fame.

When Comic Books Were Radical

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. 

Read entire article at History.com