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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 462

Here are some quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King's Why We Can't Wait:

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  • "Yet one of the revelations during the past few years is the fact that the straitjackets of race prejudice and discrimination do not wear only southern labels. The subtle, psychological technique of the North has approached in its ugliness and victimization of the Negro the outright terror and open brutality of the South" (22). Dr. King discusses the racism of the North, which, while it is not characterized by overt brutality, also oppresses black people and keeps them in what he refers to as a "straitjacket" by restricting their opportunities for advancement and equality.

  • "To the Negro in 1963, as to Atticus Finch, it had become obvious that nonviolence could symbolize the gold badge of heroism rather than the white feather of cowardice. In addition to being consistent with his religious precepts, it served his need to act on his own for his own liberation. It enabled him to transmute hatred into constructive energy, to seek not only to free himself but to free his oppressor from his sins. This transformation, in turn, had the marvelous effect of changing the face of the enemy. The enemy the Negro faced became the not the individual who had oppressed him but the evil system which permitted that individual to do so" (35). Dr. King allies himself with Atticus Finch, the wise father at the center of Harper Lee's iconic novel To Kill A Mockingbird. In this excerpt, Dr. King uses Finch to explain the power of nonviolence. He explains that nonviolence allows protestors to act in accord with their religious principles. It also transforms the relationship with their oppressors so that attention is directed away from the perpetrators of oppression themselves to the entire system that allows blacks to be oppressed.

  • "In the entire country there was no place to compare with Birmingham...It was a community in which human rights had been trampled for so long that fear and oppression were as thick in its atmosphere as the smog from its factories" (44). Dr. King explains why Birmingham became the target of the Civil Rights movement in 1963, as it was among the most racially oppressive places in the country. He compares its oppression to the smoke that emanates from its factories, as it is a center of steel production.

  • "Certainly Birmingham had its decent white citizens who privately deplored the maltreatment of Negros. It was a silence born of fear—fear of social, political and economic reprisals. The ultimate tragedy of Birmingham was not the brutality of the bad people, but the silence of the good people" (51). Dr. King locates the blame for racial oppression not only with the overt perpetrators but also with the silent whites who do not speak about against it.


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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 348

In Why We Can't Wait, Martin Luther King, Jr. describes the experiences that he and other Civil Rights Movement activists went through in Birmingham, Alabama and analyzes the physical and mental conditions that African Americans endured in US society at that time.

Dr. King also explores the idea of common cause as explanation for the...

(The entire section contains 810 words.)

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