Did Rep. John Lewis Cosplay as Himself at San Diego Comic-Con?

As memories of and remembrances for Rep. John Lewis proliferated online following his death on July 17 2020, his public appearances at California’s biggest pop-culture event were brought back to the public’s attention.

Activist Bridget Todd’s tweet highlighting the Georgia Democratic Party lawmaker’s visits to San Diego Comic-Con — and the civil right icon’s special ensemble for those appearances — posted on the day of Lewis’ death has been shared thousands of times on the platform.

“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,” she wrote:

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

Lewis first appeared at the convention in July 2013 to mark the release of March, a three-part autobiographical comic book covering both his early life growing up in Georgia and his participation in the Civil Rights Movement. In this case, we can confirm the claim firsthand, as we attended Lewis’ panel alongside co-author Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell and saw the lawmaker lead a procession to the convention floor where he signed autographs.

“The first time I was arrested I felt liberated,” Lewis said during the panel. “The other 39 times were easy.”

Lewis’ appearance at the convention also drew coverage from national news outlets.

The congressman wore the same type of clothing that he had on as he and other civil rights activists marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama in March 1965, during which he and his cohorts were brutalized by law enforcment. As Lewis recalled in a 2012 interview:

I was hit in the head by a state trooper with a nightstick. I had a concussion at the bridge. My legs went out from under me. I felt like I was going to die. I thought I saw Death. All these many years later, I don’t recall how I made it back across that bridge to the church. But after I got back to the church, the church was full to capacity, more than 2,000 people on the outside trying to get in to protest what had happened on the bridge. And someone asked me to say something to the audience. And I stood up and said something like: “I don’t understand it, how President Johnson can send troops to Vietnam but cannot send troops to Selma, Alabama, to protect people whose only desire is to register to vote.” The next thing I knew, I had been admitted to the local hospital in Selma.

Lewis would return to the convention in 20152016, and 2017. Each time, he wore the same coat and backpack that he brought to the “Bloody Sunday” march; in 2015, Powell said in a tweet that besides wearing the same type of backpack as he did on the “Bloody Sunday” march, Lewis filled it with the same contents:

@repjohnlewis went full-concept yesterday, even packing his backpack with the same contents as Bloody Sunday. #SDCC pic.twitter.com/Fu0MSenhWg

— Nate Powell (@Nate_Powell_Art) July 12, 2015

“I felt very, very moved just by being with the kids,” he told the Washington Post that year. “As you know, the civil rights movement was often led by the children and the young people.”

The series’ concluding volume March: Book 3 won the Will Eisner Comics Industry Award, the industry’s top honor, for Best Reality-Based Work in 2016. A year later, Lewis, Aydin, and Powell were also honored by the convention with its Inkpot Award, which lauds recipients “for their contributions to the worlds of comics, science fiction/fantasy, film, television, animation, and fandom services.”

“I didn’t know the story would have such a powerful reception,” Lewis said before his 2017 appearance.