Why We Can’t Wait is Martin Luther King Jr.’s second book. His first book Stride Toward Freedom follows his work with the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. This one is about his perspective of 1963 in Birmingham. That’s the year King led the civil rights movement (he calls it the “Negro Revolution”) which would end blatant segregation–as in take down the signs saying no colored people, let black people sit at the lunch counters, integrate the schools.
What I love so much about this book is his insistence on now. Not later, not in due time. Change it now. And they chose that moment in 1963 on purpose. Local government agreed to change the signs and stuff but didn’t enforce it. So the protest was planned and pushed back a couple times. They got it started even tho the new timing wasn’t something everyone liked. It was right after an election and right before Easter. But that timing mattered to King because they needed to push the new guy in their direction and they needed stores to feel pressured to make sales for the holiday.
And money has a lot to do with his philosophy. This is a major aspect of his work that get sanitized if you don’t read his work. King’s solution wasn’t just take the signs down and let us eat. It was take the signs down and now see how people still can’t get in. People still can’t afford lunch or clothes or stuff. They still don’t have a job to go to or whatever else they need. King was also advocating for reparations in the style of the GI bill, which included benefits for a lot of white soldiers upon their return to make up for the years of wages and education and life they lost while they were away.
And with that as his purpose and process, you can see why the government would be so fearful of his work. His style was militant. Let the tension build and break in as a group. Getting people together and ready to protest requires strategy. Their plan included people sitting down at the lunch counters, people all walking together in the street (they’d get charged with parading without a permit), people of all ages voluntarily getting arrested and filling jails. The whole point was to put the violence of the jim crow south on TV. Let the world watch their violence. Embarrass them.
Best line: “It is an axiom of social change that no revolution can take place without a methodology suited to the circumstances of the period” (King 20).
This book and others by King are for sale at my bookstore Ten Dollar Books. Click here to view.