Georgia congressman John Lewis, who in March 1965 stood at the front of a line of marchers on the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, Ala., only to be beaten unconscious by Alabama state troopers, appeared before a rapt crowd at Evanston Township High School to talk about his graphic novel trilogy “March.” Congressman Lewis appeared with the work’s coauthor, Andrew Aydin, in an event sponsored by the Family Action Network.

Congressman Lewis spoke first, sharing a brief portion of his biography starting as the “boy from Troy” who raised chickens for his family but went on to college in Nashville, Tenn. It was there he joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, inspired by Martin Luther King Jr., who he met in Montgomery, and Rosa Parks.

“February 1960 was my first arrest,” he said. “I felt liberated. I felt free.” He described buying a new suit because he “wanted to look sharp, fresh and clean if I was going to jail. …

“If I still had that suit today, I could probably sell it on eBay for a lot of money.”

Congressman Lewis talked about the “distance we’ve come and the progress we’ve made.” But he encouraged the mostly young attendees to continue to “speak up and speak out” when they “see something that is not right, not fair, not just.”

Currently, he said, “there are forces in America that want to take us back. But we must say over and over again, ‘We have come too far. We are not going back.’”

Congressman Lewis then turned to his and Mr. Aydin’s three volume graphic novel, saying, “It is our hope that “March” inspires another generation to stand up and speak out. … Never ever be afraid. Never lose hope. Never give up. And never hate.”

Mr. Aydin followed, calling himself the child of a Muslim immigrant who some in American say “shouldn’t be allowed here.” He said he grew out his beard to purposely highlight his Muslim background, even though he grew up Methodist raised by a single mother.

The beard “is not a political statement,” Mr. Aydin said. “It is not political to say, ‘You shouldn’t hate people.’”

Mr. Aydin then talked about the origin of “March,” saying he grew up reading comic books and tried to get the Lewis campaign behind his idea to write a graphic novel version of Mr. Lewis’s story. Mr. Lewis ultimately agreed, and “the first graphic novel ever to win the RFK book award” was born.