Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote this book in 1963 to explain the urgency of his non-violent campaign against segregation and racism to a national audience. The central essay in the book is "Letter from Birmingham City Jail." In this essay, King explains why he was arrested for protesting in the city of Birmingham, Alabama, then thought of as one of the most segregated cities in America. He explains why his movement uses non-violent resistance and explains the ways non-violence works. In brief, non-violent resistance creates a sense of crisis that brings about change. King feels that the legal campaign that is being waged by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has brought about legal victories such as Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 Supreme Court case that made school segregation illegal, but that these victories did not create a just or equal society.
King also explains the urgency of the movement and the harmful effects of racism and segregation on blacks and whites alike. He writes about how racism has damaged the city of Birmingham which, for example, has chosen to shutter its parks rather than integrate the parks. He believes that racism has hurt all Americans and that racial justice is in the interest of all Americans.
King wrote this book to justify his methods and the urgency of his campaign to critics, both white and black. There were many who criticized him for his protests, which were against the law in Birmingham, but King writes about the need to break human laws that are unjust and to heed a higher law of justice and human dignity.