This particular scene is a stark contrast to those that bookend it because it takes place in near-complete darkness. The black background coupled with the gradient from a single light remaining in the fumes into the cloudy darkness of the final panel in which Lewis is covering his nose with a tissue depicts the disorienting nature of the situation the activists were subjected to. The picture above is a panel with two smaller panels nested within it. It is separated from the top of the page by a thin white divider that is broken only by the gases being released from the fumigator, thus isolating the characters from the reader’s last glimpse of a door. The only viable escape option presented is therefore taken away from the characters.
The first and final panels within my selection are distinct from the rest only by their angular shaping, which grabs the reader’s attention instead of leaving the images to float within the toxins. The distinct lack of speech bubbles and text boxes also conveys the muddled reality that the characters were subjected to experience. All the reader can truly make out in this scene is the genuine panic in John Lewis’s eyes as he realizes what he is breathing in, his desperate attempt to cover his nose and filter the air with a napkin, and the pain caused by the fumes reaching his eyes as he squints to find refuge from the fumigator.
I had never previously considered how Civil Rights activists were subjected to such demeaning circumstances as the one pictured above, in which a fumigator was utilized to inflict harm. When I think about violence imposed upon activists from this time period, I tend to think of the upfront and confrontational discrimination and violence that they faced, such as demonstrations and riots by the Ku Klux Klan, but circumstances such as this one seem more evil to me for reasons I cannot quite nail down. I believe an element of this is the fact that the weapon of choice was a fumigator intended to be used by exterminators to get rid of cockroaches and other vermin, not human beings. Although I have been exempted from the fear that comes with knowing that my ancestors had been so severely persecuted, I must acknowledge that that is not everyone’s reality. Knowledge of history can present itself as a heavy burden for many, and it is crucial that we validate the feeling of dread that manifests itself within the victims of intergenerational trauma before we can begin to devise resolutions.