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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 372

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."

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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...

(The entire section contains 372 words.)

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