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Celebrate Black History Month with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s ‘Why We Can’t Wait’

Why We Can't Wait book cover
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Why We Can't Wait by Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Martin Luther King, Jr.’s book Why We Can’t Wait will take readers on an eye-opening and inspirational journey through Dr. King’s first-hand account of the Birmingham civil rights campaign in 1963. Why We Can’t Wait vividly describes the painful truths of the most segregated city at that time, where blacks were not allowed to share schools, parks, churches, hospitals, bathrooms, water fountains or food counters with whites. It was a place where many blacks had little hope for change when their governor George Wallace declared, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever”. In desperation, freedom fighter Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth called upon the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta, Georgia and their acting President, Martin Luther King, Jr., for help in Birmingham. Dr. King knew it was a risky task returning to the state of Alabama where even the NAACP was considered illegal but he also knew it was the perfect time for action.

The bus boycotts and lunch counter sit-ins had made an impact in Montgomery during the prior decade and proved Martin Luther King, Jr.’s non-violent approach could work again. The year of 1963, which marked the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, also promised to provide the campaign with a reason why they could no longer wait. As history tells us, the Emancipation Proclamation was the document that had freed the African Americans from the bonds of slavery but the 100th anniversary proved time had not yet freed them from racial discrimination and forced segregation. The year of 1963 also marked nine years since the Supreme Court ruled segregation of schools illegal but only 9% of African American students in the south were attending integrated schools. If there was a time to act, that time was now.

Why We Can’t Wait will bring readers to the front lines of the civil rights movement with a look inside the preparation of the campaign, from determining the dates to providing non-violence workshops to participants and even raising bail money for those imprisoned for their demonstrations. Martin Luther King, Jr. himself was arrested during a demonstration, one which he describes emotionally as a powerful eight block march in Birmingham with people lining the streets singing freedom songs and clapping in support of the cause. Dr. King spent eight days imprisoned in the Birmingham jail where he put his response to critics of his campaign on any paper he could find. These writings would later become his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail” which has been included in this publication.

As our nation celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Black History Month, the book Why We Can’t Wait will not only brilliantly display Dr. King’s strength as a civil rights activist but also his talent with the written word. His published work will serve as a reminder of the struggles previous generations endured to bring and keep freedom in America and why it is important for the current generation to keep campaigning for a better world. As Martin Luther King, Jr. stated in both his I Have a Dream speech and his dedication for this book, he had dreamt of a day when his children would no longer be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. That may be truer today than it was 50 years ago, but today his children may instead be judged by their sexual orientation while they fight for marriage equality. The battle is not truly over but the life work of Dr. King is proof that someday, as the famous freedom song states, “We Shall Overcome”.