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Why We Can't Wait

Cover of Why We Can't Wait

Why We Can't Wait

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Dr. King's best-selling account of the civil rights movement in Birmingham during the spring and summer of 1963

In 1963, Birmingham, Alabama, was perhaps the most racially segregated city in the United States, but the campaign launched by Fred Shuttlesworth, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and others demonstrated to the world the power of nonviolent direct action.

Often applauded as King's most incisive and eloquent book, Why We Can't Wait recounts the Birmingham campaign in vivid detail, while underscoring why 1963 was such a crucial year for the civil rights movement. King examines the history of the civil rights struggle and the tasks that future generations must accomplish to bring about full equality. The book also includes the extraordinary "Letter from Birmingham Jail," which King wrote in April of 1963.

Dr. King's best-selling account of the civil rights movement in Birmingham during the spring and summer of 1963

In 1963, Birmingham, Alabama, was perhaps the most racially segregated city in the United States, but the campaign launched by Fred Shuttlesworth, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and others demonstrated to the world the power of nonviolent direct action.

Often applauded as King's most incisive and eloquent book, Why We Can't Wait recounts the Birmingham campaign in vivid detail, while underscoring why 1963 was such a crucial year for the civil rights movement. King examines the history of the civil rights struggle and the tasks that future generations must accomplish to bring about full equality. The book also includes the extraordinary "Letter from Birmingham Jail," which King wrote in April of 1963.

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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One


    We had been forced to change our timetable twice. We had had to make a strategic retreat until after the run-off and had lost contact with the community for several weeks. We had returned now to a city whose political power structure was divided. We had returned to find that our own people were not united. There was tremendous resistance to our program from some of the Negro ministers, businessmen and professionals in the city. This opposition did not exist because these Negroes did not want to be free. It existed for several other reasons.

    The Negro in Birmingham, like the Negro elsewhere in this nation, had been skillfully brainwashed to the point where he had accepted the white man's theory that he, as a Negro, was inferior. He wanted to believe that he was the equal of any man; but he didn't know where to begin or how to resist the influences that had conditioned him to take the line of least resistance and go along with the white man's views. He knew that there were exceptions to the white man's evaluation: a Ralph Bunche, a Jackie Robinson, a Marian Anderson. But to the Negro, in Birmingham and in the nation, the exception did not prove the rule.

    Another consideration had also affected the thinking of some of the Negro leaders in Birmingham. This was the widespread feeling that our action was illtimed, and that we should have given the new Boutwell government a chance. Attorney General Robert Kennedy had been one of the first to voice this criticism. The Washington Post, which covered Birmingham from the first day of our demonstrations, had editorially attacked our "timing." In fact, virtually all the coverage in the national press at first had been negative, pictur ing us as irresponsible hotheads who had plunged into a situation just when Birmingham was getting ready to change overnight into Paradise. The sudden emergence of our protest seemed to give the lie to this vision.

    In Montgomery, during the bus boycott, and in the Albany, Georgia, campaign, we had had the advantage of a sympathetic and understanding national press from the outset. In Birmingham we did not. It is terribly difficult to wage such a battle without the moral support of the national press to counteract the hostility of local editors. The words "bad timing" came to be ghosts haunting our every move in Birmingham. Yet people who used this argument were ignorant of the background of our planning. They did not know we had postponed our campaign twice. They did not know our reason for attacking in time to affect Easter shopping. Above all they did not realize that it was ridiculous to speak of timing when the clock of history showed that the Negro had already suffered one hundred years of delay.

    Not only were many of the Negro leaders affected by the administration's position, but they were themselves indulging in a false optimism about what would happen to Birmingham under the new government. The situation had been critical for so many years that, I suppose, these people felt that any change represented a giant step toward the good. Many truly believed that once the influence of Bull Connor had faded, everything was going to be all right.

    Another reason for the opposition within the Negro community was resentment on the part of some groups and leaders because we had not kept them informed about the date we planned to begin or the strategy we would adopt. They felt that they were being pulled in on something they had no part in organizing. They did not realize that, because of the local political situation, we had been forced to keep our plans secret.

    We were seeking to bring about a great social change which could only...

About the Author-
  • Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929--1968), architect of the nonviolent civil rights movement, was a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and one of the greatest orators in U.S. history. The author of several books, including Stride Toward Freedom (Beacon / 0069-4 / $14.00 pb), Where Do We Go from Here (Beacon / 0067-0 / $14.00 pb), and The Trumpet of Conscience (Beacon / 0071-7 / $22.00 hc), King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968.

    Dorothy Cotton is theformer education director for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and she worked closely with Dr. King on teaching nonviolence and citizenship education.

Reviews-
  • Jesse Jackson

    "No child should graduate from high school without having read this book. In telling the story of the third American Revolution, it is as integral to American history as the Declaration of Independence."

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