As the nation mourned the loss of civil rights icon and Georgia congressman John Lewis this weekend, social media was flooded with images of him marching in Selma, videos of him speaking at the March on Washington and memes highlighting some of his most memorable and profound quotes.
One particularly heartwarming episode from the tireless activist-turned-politician’s life also re-emerged. There was the time Lewis, who died Saturday at age 80 from pancreatic cancer, appeared at 2015 San Diego Comic-Con and did what one does at the mega-fan convention: He cosplayed as a hero… himself, dressing up in the same beige trench coat, shirt and tie and small backpack he wore as a 25-year-old who lead 600 peaceful marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma in 1965. (Lewis was among several nonviolent protestors who were subsequently beaten by Alabama State Police, suffering a fractured skull on what became known as “Bloody Sunday,” an event that ultimately became a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement.)
As iHeart podcast host Bridget Todd noted in a viral post, Lewis also lead an impromptu children’s march through the main corridor of the San Diego Convention Center.
My favorite thing about John Lewis is that at ComicCon, he cosplayed as his younger self, wearing the same coat and backpack he wore at the March on Selma and led kids in a little march around the convention. 🖤 pic.twitter.com/6T2sgRZehz
— Bridget Todd 💁🏿 (@BridgetMarie) July 18, 2020
The congressman was at Comic-Con five years ago this month to promote March: Book Two, the second in a trilogy of autobiographical graphic novels about the Civil Rights Movement that he co-wrote with Andrew Aydin and was illustrated by Nate Powell.
After his panel discussing the release, Lewis had to walk to the signing booth of the novel’s publisher, Top Shelf Productions, on the convention’s crowded main floor.
According to a detailing of the events by Washington Post’s Michael Cavna, there had been front seats at the panel reserved for a group of students from the nearby Oak Park Elementary School. Their organizing teacher, Mick Rabin, suggested the kids walk alongside Lewis. Other Con-goers joined their “parade of purpose” as they moved through the convention.
“I remember standing in the line to the left watching him walk by in procession. It’s still one of the most moving memories I’ve ever had in all my years attending,” a Twitter user named Julie posted in response to Todd’s photos.
— Nate Powell (@Nate_Powell_Art) July 12, 2015
As Powell shared on Twitter, Lewis even packed his “costume” backpack with the same contents he had that day in Selma, which Aydin later listed: two books (in this case March: Book One and March: Book Two), an apple, a toothbrush and toothpaste. He also had an orange in Selma, but oddly they couldn’t find one in SoCal that morning.
U.S. senator Elizabeth Warren was one of the 75,000-plus people who retweeted Todd’s post. “John Lewis was a giant and a moral compass. I can’t wait to see what kind of good trouble these kids get into,” Warren wrote. (“Good trouble” was a phrase made famous by Lewis to describe peaceful protesting that could still lead to arrest; it’s also the name of a newly released documentary on Lewis that’s well worth checking out.)
John Lewis was a giant and a moral compass. I can’t wait to see what kind of good trouble these kids get into. https://t.co/StYY1S9xO9
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) July 18, 2020
As Cavna pointed out in his WaPo profile, Lewis’s late-life foray into the world of graphic novels made him a regular attendee at fan conventions, including Small Press Expo, Dragon Con and Awesome Con. He returned to San Diego Comic-Con in 2017 for the release of March: Book Three, and while he did not cosplay, he led an even larger march around the convention’s grounds, with The Hollywood Reporter estimating approximately 1,000 people tagged along.
This year’s San Diego Comic-Con kicks off Wednesday — but like many events this year, has been forced to go virtual due to the coronavirus, now rebranded as Comic-Con@Home.
That’s too bad, because it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising to see other people cosplaying as John Lewis this year, in honor of the late real-life hero.
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