Exactly fifty years ago, the United States Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin became illegal. Yet even today we are repeatedly reminded that, in action, the civil rights struggle is far from over. The Silence of Our Friends, Mark Long’s graphic memoir of his childhood amid escalating racial tensions in 1960‘s Houston, is a nostalgic but frank portrayal of this time and place, so paradoxically innocent and sinister.
The story is centered around a fictional yet completely plausible trial involving an African American college student facing charges for intent to murder a police officer. Young Mark, Long’s character, finds a hero in his father, a television news race reporter covering the trial and, eventually, a key witness in a consequent case of a shooting at a demonstration turned riot.
There’s something so nostalgic in Nate Powell’s illustrations. And he’s employed the perfect medium in ink wash. Whether a panel depicts quintessentially sixties footage of a people embracing Freedom of Assembly, or a super wide shot of streetlit suburbia at dusk, it just works. The imagery is so evocative of suburban American childhood you can almost hear the crickets and hum of the power lines, and feel the itchy sticky summer kid skin.
And that’s where this book’s most poignant moments lie. These innocent children, bearing witness to the American 1960’s. To a revolution and all of its casualties. To the contagion of hatred and violence, and the banality of evil in the casual ubiquity of racism. To Martin Luther King Jr. and his unthinkably wicked assassination. To incredible progress. To A Change is Gonna Come. To the Apollo space missions. And the music.
There’s a pretty cute kids sing-a-long to Soul Man moment, too.