Why We Can't Wait Analysis
by Martin Luther King Jr.

Start Your Free Trial

Why We Can't Wait Analysis

The book Why We Can't Wait, published in 1964, is Martin Luther King Jr.'s most developed written expression of his vision for the African American civil rights movement. Taking up the mantle of leadership for his people, he seeks to explain both to them and to the wider American public why the movement arose and why it had reached such a peak of intensity in 1963. In answer to the question posed by the title, King asserts that desegregation did not fully come to pass until after it was mandated by the Supreme Court's unanimous Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954. Economic uplift did not come to the black community even a quarter century after the end of the Great Depression—despite the arrival of broad prosperity for white Americans. True social and political freedom was still denied to African Americans a full century after the Civil War and Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. The time for quiet patience and docility had ended: he writes, "Three hundred years of humiliation, abuse, and deprivation cannot be expected to find voice in a whisper."

Download Why We Can't Wait Study Guide

Subscribe Now

The book is concerned not just with why the civil rights movement emerged but how King expected it to succeed in bringing about social change. King enunciates his theory of nonviolent struggle, adapted from Mahatma Gandhi's successful campaigns confronting the British Raj in India. Violent methods, King argues, will never succeed in bringing down the structures of white power and segregation in the United States. Mere legal advocacy had proven insufficient. Only the moral force of a highly disciplined, nonviolent mass movement could catalyze the nation into facing the monumental injustices it had perpetrated upon its black population. King defends his approach most comprehensively and eloquently in his "Letter From a Birmingham Jail," arguing that the struggle for racial justice encompasses the need to violate unjust laws, such as Birmingham's statutes banning street demonstrations.

Why We Can't Wait constitutes King's statement of purpose for the tasks ahead: in the immediate future, this meant seeing federal civil rights legislation and voting rights reform through to conclusion. More broadly, it meant preparing the nation for the moral reckoning necessary to begin treating the cancer of racial discrimination afflicting the culture of the United States.