Readers probably already know that Marshmallow enjoys reading graphic novels which are fictional, but she has occasionally also read memoirs or biographies written in graphic novel format and reviewed them for the book bunnies blog. (See, for example, her reviews of They Called Us Enemy by George Takei and The English GI by Jonathan Sandler and Brian Bicknell.) Today she writes about a 2022 book in this genre: Victory. Stand! Raising My Fist for Justice, by Tommie Smith, co-written by Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile.
Marshmallow’s Quick Take: If you like autobiographies or books about recent history, or if you want to read specifically about one of the consequential events in the history of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements in the United States, then this might be the book for you.
Marshmallow’s Summary (with Spoilers): Tommie Smith is an American athlete, who is the first person to run 200 meters in under 20 seconds. In this book, Smith shares his experiences and retells the events leading up to and after his famous 1968 Olympics Black Power salute.
The narrative starts by showing the beginning of Smith’s Olympic finals race. Then we are shown his earlier life. As a young child, Tommie and his family were sharecroppers, meaning that they worked on land owned by someone else. Tommie did chores and picked cotton with his family. Even at a young age, Tommie could see injustice. He watched his parents and siblings work so hard everyday, toiling in the sun, while the white family who owned the land had a better, bigger house and did not have to work as much. However, things soon got even worse, and mechanized equipment and the drop in cotton prices took jobs away from sharecroppers. As a result, Tommie and his family moved to a labor camp in Stratford, California. There Tommie began to attend school regularly and “had to make sense of something that made no sense at all”. The white children in his class had several privileges, and the teachers saw them raise their hands, but they never seemed to see Tommie’s.
Everything changed, however, after a momentous race with his sister. Tommie realized that he could achieve anything, and he joined his school’s track team. This led him to becoming a star, winning almost every single competition he entered. By the time he graduated high school, he had accolades in multiple sports and several scholarship offers.
Tommie became a star athlete, and eventually, he made it to the Olympics. But he never lost his sense of justice and equality. He raised his fist at the 1968 Games to protest the racism and the many injustices in the United States at the time. Afterwards, there was a lot of push-back, and Smith faced a lot of difficulties as a result, but also a lot of people felt seen and heard. The book ends in the present, mentioning a few other athletes who have made similar protests after Smith in the intervening years.
Marshmallow’s Review: I really enjoyed reading Victory. Stand! Raising My Fist for Justice. It is very informative, and I learned a lot that I did not know before. I think it is very important to know and remember such acts of bravery and the people who committed them.
The drawings are really good. I think that they show movement, especially running, very well. I have reviewed historical graphic novels before, and I appreciated them too, but the drawing style in this one was unique and enjoyable. I also enjoyed the writing style of the author. The writing paired with the drawings made this a really good book overall.
Victory. Stand! Raising My Fist for Justice mentions horrible things that some people have done and has one image that is disturbing. Additionally, it does have some derogatory words. But the message of the book is vital. I think this is a book that every young bunny should read at least once. The story of Tommie Smith’s courageous life and his raised fist is a touching story that gives us hope for the future.
Marshmallow’s Rating: 100%.