Civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis — recalling how his family members were turned away when they applied for library cards in the segregated South — was overcome with emotion as he accepted a National Book Award on Wednesday.
“This is unreal. This is unbelievable,” the Georgia Democrat said, his voice quivering at the ceremony in New York.
Lewis, along with Nate Powell and Andrew Aydin, were honored by the National Book Foundation in the young people’s literature category for their graphic novel, “March: Book Three.” The autobiographical trilogy details Lewis’s experience in the civil rights movement and his efforts to end segregation.
“Some of you know, I grew up in rural Alabama, very, very poor. Very few books in our home,” Lewis, 76, said accepting the honor. “I remember, in 1956 when I was 16 years old, some of my brothers and sisters and cousins going down to the public library trying to get library cards.”
“And we were told that the library was for whites only and not for coloreds.”
“I had a wonderful teacher in my elementary school who told me, ‘Read, my child, read!’ And I tried to read everything. I love books,” Lewis told the crowd.
“And to come here and receive this award, this honor,” he said to applause, “it’s too much.”