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Why We Can't Wait

4.52  ·  Rating details ·  7,071 ratings  ·  513 reviews
Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963

“Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, ‘Wait.’ But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim…when you see the vast majority of twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the
Paperback, 223 pages
Published January 1st 2000 by Signet (first published July 1st 1964)
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Jan 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I read this book in high school at a time when I was just beginning to truly understand the Civil Rights movement. This book changed my life. I don't care if that sounds cliche or whatever, but there is no way a person can read a book like Why We Can't Wait, and experience Dr. Martin Luther King's more than deeply profound rhetoric of freedom and equality and then turn around and aim for mediocrity. I have a lot more to say but I shall save my thoughts and pour them into action. ...more
Apr 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the - if not the - best of King's books, as it details the crucial Birmingham campaign and features at its heart the incredible Letter from Birmingham Jail. Although always positive in tone, it deals with the realities of a campaign that is now viewed as pivotal to the success of the American Civil Rights Movement but that was anything but assured in its own time. That King acknowledges this reality while placing it in a constructive context all the while advancing his positive, f ...more
Wow. How sad is it that I live in Alabama, and I never knew that in 1963, Birmingham was considered to be the most segregated city in America?

Martin Luther King, Jr's Why We Can't Wait is an excellent treatise on the race issues still facing our country 50 years ago - 100 years after Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation.

This book is about non-violent revolution. About some of the turning points in American history 50 years ago, especially in Birmingham.

Please read this. We, especially those of
Jun 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book includes Dr. King's stirring "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." I can't really write a review, so I'll just say I learned a lot of things here on Juneteeth. I was born and raised in segregationist Virginia, so Dr. King's writings have a particular relevance to me and help me to understand better about hate and racism. ...more
Feb 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I think that every American should read this book. MLK, Jr. was an amazing man who was in love with God and who had a heart for people. He had an amazing understanding of what Jesus Christ would do and, I believe, was a great example of what a Christian should be. As I re-read "Letters From a Birmingham Jail", I was reminded how loving and forgiving of a man he was, even to the people who despised him the most. He had a vision of a world where everyone was treated equally, no matter what the col ...more
Benjamin Zapata
Feb 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
"Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed." - Martin Luther King Jr. A beautiful book with an everlasting message of love and non-violence; a classic exploration of the events and forces behind the Civil Right movement by someone that was there,one of the greatest human soul to walk on our planet,an enduring testament to the wise and courageous vision of Martin Luther King Jr. A must read for everyone!!! ...more
robin friedman
Apr 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Martin Luther King's Why We Can't Wait

A new anthology on Martin Luther King's political philosophy, "To Shape a New World" (2018) edited by Harvard University professors Tommie Shelby and Brandon Terry has inspired me to read or reread the five books that King published during his life. Published in 1964, King's third book, "Why We Can't Wait" focuses on the 1963 Civil Rights campaign in Birmingham, Alabama. King and others had described Birmingham as the most segregated city in America. The nat
Jan 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: almost-favorite
This was a terric book that deserves 5-stars but I only rated it 4-stars because it became too detailed and covered minutia that didn't interest me . It included Dr. King's full ' Letter from a Birmingham jail ' , which is rare and was enlightening .

I was particularly interested in the four pillars on which his dogged , non-violent movement was based : 1 . Collection of facts to identify injustice ;
2. Negotiation ;
4. Direct Action .

I was simply astounded at the leng
Carol Storm
Jan 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I read this book when I was about sixteen. It is a beautiful and important book. Dr. King describes how to use nonviolent protest to challenge injustice and change society for the better. The stories about the protests are inspiring.

But the only part I really related to was a story about an execution.

It seems there was this black teenager who was found guilty of some crime and sentenced to death. As an experiment the prison officials put a microphone in the gas chamber so they could actually he
Jan 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I celebrated MLK Day by reading Dr. King’s book, and I am so happy I did. This book is phenomenal!

One of the most poignant reads I have read that gives light to some of the most pivotal moments during the Civil Rights Movement. There is so much passion and weight found in Dr. King’s words that it is almost impossible for you to not be inspired while reading.
Paul Haspel
Jan 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
When reading Why We Can't Wait, one gets a sense of what Martin Luther King Jr. faced at a crucial point in his civil-rights activism; and Dr. King emerges from the pages of this book not as a distant icon, but as a great, and humanly great, individual. He is also a brilliant writer, and one of the greatest rhetoricians in all of American history, as Why We Can't Wait amply demonstrates.

The central subject of Why We Can't Wait is the civil-rights campaign that Dr. King led in Birmingham, Alabama
Hannah Jayne
Feb 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
it’s a moving experience to read history from the viewpoint of the present. to feel the struggle in their choices and actions, to celebrate their victories, to feel the hope for the future.

or maybe it was just the way of words Martin Luther King, Jr. had.

or maybe it’s the heart of christianity in his cause. the love of Christ. the calling of the church, of the people, to fight for what’s just as God describes justice. but to fight, with peace. with sacrifice. with strength of character.

he end
Daniel Namie
Dec 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
"Man was born into barbarism when killing his fellow man was a normal condition of existence. He became endowed with a conscience. And he has now reached the day when violence toward another human being must become as abhorrent as eating another's flesh."
--Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The concluding words from Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.’s were written in his book entitled "Why We Can't Wait." The words illustrate the everlasting struggle of humanity to regain its humanity from the inherited cor
Matthew Mitchell
Jan 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing

I’m glad to read Dr. King’s thoughts in his own words. I’ve settled too long for secondary sources.

This book tells the story of the Civil Rights Movement, especially the events of the year 1963. It centers on the events in Birmingham and includes King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” King explains what their aims were, what philosophy guided them, what tactics of direct action through nonviolence they employed, and what the results were. He does a masterful job of carrying the reader
Apr 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
is it enough to say i kept gasping after turning every single page?
"He marched to heal a nation."
"If he is still saying, “Not enough,” it is because he does not feel that he should be expected to be grateful for the halting and inadequate attempts of his society to catch up with the basic rights he ought to have inherited automatically, centuries ago, by virtue of his membership in the human family and his American birthright.”

If I summarized the entire book then I have every chapter highlighted. This is easily the best book I ever read and so engrossing that it makes you want to re-read l
Waffles - Kelsey
Jan 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
“No person has the right to rain on your dreams.”

“Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge, which is power; religion gives man wisdom, which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals.”

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

And the famous......

“I Had a Dream....”

And can never forget.....

"Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty we are free at las
Roy Lotz
Feb 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
For the last few years, I have normally felt that I’ve figured out most of what needs to be figured out concerning people. Everywhere I go, everyone I meet, the same basic petty, High School nonsense resurfaces. People say one thing and do another; people smile in your company, and chatter behind your back. I don’t mean to sound bitter—it’s fun. I simply wish to say that daily life is singularly devoid of heroism and nobility. It’s just imperfect people doing the best they can to get through the ...more
Living history. A look into the mind of Martin Luther King Jr. Turns out the man was every bit as brilliant as his eloquent speeches and history would suggest. Strange feeling about reading this in this day and age; so little has changed. Many of the things he discussed in the abstract still prevail today. The specifics are different, the discrimination more creative (though still primarily racial in nature but also economic, sexual orientation, religious etc) but the attitudes, the leadership ( ...more
Austin Sill
Jul 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: aa-lit
My mind is boggled. How in the world is this not required reading for High School students, or at the very least, college students, throughout the nation? King is not only a brilliant philosopher of human dignity and nonviolence, but a touching and poetic author. His recollections of the struggle in Birmingham couldn't be more relevant to contemporary political and social issues, and not just within the sphere of racial tension. The nonviolent resistance of African Americans in 1963 should be st ...more
Apr 23, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: struggle, race
I can't believe I hadn't read this before, but how amazing to readjust what I think I know, my ideas of someone I think I know, writing in the heat of the Civil Rights Movement, describing 1963 as the great year of revolution when:
The Negro also had to recognize that one hundred years after emancipation he lived on a lonely island of economic insecurity in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. Negroes are still at the bottom of the economic ladder. They live within two concentric cir
Rachel Harp
Apr 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: racial-justice
“I was aware of a feeling that had been present all along below the surface of consciousness, pressed down under the weight of concern for the movement: I had never been truly in solitary confinement; God’s companionship does not stop at the door of a jail cell. I don’t know whether the sun was shining at that moment. But I know that once again I could see the light.”
Elena Espinosa
Feb 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing
i think everybody should read this book. it is so very important and enlightening.
Daniel and Rebekah Eikum
Mar 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: civil-rights
This man is brilliant. Chapters 3, 4, and 5 blew my mind. They were about the state of Birmingham before, during and after the nonviolent protests. The most amazing thing to me was reading about the recruiting process to participate in demonstrations. Each protestor has to sign a 10 point pledge and attend extensive training and know that they would be imprisoned for days (often being beaten by police and attacked by police dogs). What is the #1 point in the protestors pledge? “1. MEDITATE daily ...more
Jul 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Regretfully, I once failed to comprehend why MLK Jr. was so revered. I think I attributed his lasting prominence to equal parts merit as well as token symbolism enhanced by martyrdom. Then I read his writing...

His eloquence is poignant and moving that some passages even bring tears to my reticent and cynical eyes. Its worth reading simply to read the power of King's rhetoric and his masterful ability to relate profound emotional expression. After reading "Why We Can't Wait," I
Eric Zandona
Mar 22, 2012 rated it liked it
I'm glad that I read it but I expected a little more from the writing. The best chapter is his letter from the Birmingham Jail, it demonstrates that he was a smart man who read quite a bit. The last chapter is also good and I can understand why some in the FBI were following him and concerned that he might be a communist. Ultimately I wanted more about the philosophy of non-violent direct action and how they taught people to not respond to violence with violence. ...more
Kevo Rivera
Jun 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book is crucially important as a primary source/field guide/case study to any society still aching with the growing pains of revolution and in need of more wholistic justice (aka all societies). As important as it is to understand the process toward African American equality in the US in and of itself, King provides enough proverbial wisdom to incite sparks of revolutionary nonviolent action for any minority cause in which systematic injustice is the norm.
Courtney Mosier Warren
Nov 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is brilliant. It should be required reading. As deeply saddening as it is, much of the book applies to racial relations today. It shows how far we have come, but how far we have to go. Engrossing.
Jeffrey (Akiva) Savett
I read this in close interval with James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time. Both brilliant. Both holy. VERY different conceptions of what that last word means, but required reading, both. ...more
That Martin Luther King, he sure knew how to write.
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Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of the pivotal leaders of the American civil rights movement. King was a Baptist minister, one of the few leadership roles available to black men at the time. He became a civil rights activist early in his career. He led the Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955–1956) and helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (1957), serving as its first president. His ef ...more

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