Dr. King succinctly explains in the first chapter of the book that “three hundred years of humiliation, abuse, and deprivation cannot be expected to find voice in a whisper” (2000, p. 3). The revolution he led had been building up for such a long time that when it finally became clear to the American public, it appeared as an explosion of emotion and defiance. Why We Can’t Wait walks through the answer to segregation. What could have become a violent fight for freedom was instead a peaceful movement that proved just as successful. Dr. King highlights the historical events that led to that answer and why it needed to happen the way it did through nonviolence and civil disobedience—actions of love that Jesus probably would have stood behind.
In hindsight the build-up to 1963 is obvious; the tension had grown rather than diminished since the Emancipation Proclamation as new laws were enacted but slowly carried out or blatantly ignored. The centennial of the Proclamation was approaching, and the lack of follow-through by both Republicans and Democrats, in both the South and the North, brought disappointment, frustration, and anger. President Kennedy promised changes to housing discrimination but did not sign them into law until two years into his term and was not specific enough for it to bring actual change (p. 8). The black population’s faith in the government waned as they saw countries in Africa rebelling after World War II, the nearly nuclear war of the 1950s, and the Great Depression that lingered even longer for them than for the struggling white public. They were witnessing fighting and determination around the world without experiencing any liberty of their own. The struggle was a daily reality for the individual, and that fact brought motivation.
Black Americans did not all agree how to resolve the injustices however. Many resisted open support of revolution out of fear of losing their jobs or ending up in prison. Marcus Garvey called for a mass exodus to Africa, and the NAACP attempted to earn freedom through the legal system. Others, like the Black Muslims, were convinced that violence was the solution. Dr. King on the other hand supported civil disobedience. “There is something in the American ethos that responds to moral strength,” (p. 31) he argued. This idea of nonviolence required bravery and discipline, and that became immediately apparent to onlookers. Boycotts, sit-ins, and marches spread through the south as civil disobedience gained popularity. The Montgomery Bus Boycott and Rosa Parks became famous symbols of peaceably refusing to be considered lesser. Being imprisoned was no longer something to fear but something to take pride in. As Dr. King expected, the message took hold, and the movement started to gain mainstream popularity. Martin Luther King, Jr. readily took on a primary role as a leader; his letters and speeches became a driving force.
Centered in Birmingham, “the country’s chief symbol of racial intolerance” (p. 42),...