Why We Can't Wait: An Anaylsis
eginning: it was time to act. Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King stated, “we felt that our direction-action program could be delayed no longer” (67). Dr. King repeatedly notes that Birmingham was “the most segregated city in America” (36). Under the advisement of Eugene “Bull” Connor, Birmingham had become the most racist, harshest living environment. Dr. King highlights how the African-American race was not allowed to vote or visit the same parks, eat in the same lunch space, nor drink in the same fountain as Whites. The Black community had reached its apex and had grown weary of injustice. Thus, a revolution began. Dr. King wrote, “just as lightning makes no sound until it strikes, the Negro Revolution generated quickly.
In Dr. King’s famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” he referenced that by that time, the Black race had “waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights” (69). So, “why 1963,” as Dr. King asked (3)? By 1963, violence and hatred had grown to level that provoked the Negro to act against its oppressor and offender. Dr. King used an interesting parallel to the state of mind of Black America. He wrote of a time in which he was stabbed in the chest with a letter opener. The object had just missed Dr. King’s aorta. Dr. King connected that incident to “the knife of violence…close to the nation’s aorta” (3).
The aorta is the largest blood vessel that circulates blood from the heart to the body. If the aorta takes a blow or puncture, the body can bleed to death very quickly. No blood transfusion can be effective. As fast as the blood is transfused, twice the amount of blood leaves the body. Dr. King realized this link. He knew that if change did not occur soon enough, something was going to die. The Black race had been suppressed for so long that it was beginning to affect the minds of the people. It was imperative for African-Americans to move forth and not die in the agony caused by the Jim Crow south. With the change and growth that had taken place in Africa, the African-American race could not afford to be stagnant (8). The silence had to be broken. “The posture of silent waiting was forced upon him psychologically because he was shackled physically” (13). The silence had to be broken to not only free the enslaved mind of the Negro race, but to be completely emancipated from the bondage of discrimination.
Dr. King eloquently wrote about the pain of the Negro people and the importance for change. We learn of the African-Americans’ plight of living at the lowest socioeconomic status, as they were “deprived of normal education and normal social and economic opportunities” (9). It is amazing that a nation of people can be ripped from their homeland, to be forced into labor in a foreign land to enhance its economic status, than to be regarded less than the soil in which they toiled. The Negro was good enough to till the farmer’s land, but not good enough to partake in produce with the farmer.
When the nation was called to desegregate, Birmingham responded in its own way. The Alabama town “had consistently expressed [its] defiance” and had continued to remain segregated (33). In the hypothetical situation Dr. King used in Chapter 3, he allowed us to explore what it was like to be born and grow up in Birmingham. It was news to me that the Metropolitan Opera had refused to sing for segregated audiences (34). There is a lot of revenue that generates when a concert or performance is held in a particular town or city. When an organized theater decides to take a loss for justice, there is a gain that can be learned by Metropolitan’s position.
Birmingham ran under the guise and direction of Eugene “Bull” Connor. He “played as much contempt for the rights of the Negro as he did defiance for the authority of the federal government” (35). Connor made it hard for everyone to live as one in Birmingham. Not only did he go after the Blacks, he also went after those who sided with them (35). Fear was the “silent password” that paralyzed people from doing what was right and just (36).
The title, Why We Can’t Wait, becomes even more evidenced in “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Dr. King’s heartfelt response to the eight pastors who judged Dr. King’s arrest as “unwise and untimely” (64). Dr. Kings strengthens his affirmative stance on justice and refused to allow the opinion of his fellow clergy to discourage him from what he believed in. Dr. King was “in Birmingham because injustice was [there]” (65). I do not know of anyone in their right mind who would willingly choose to go to jail. However, when it came to stepping out against injustice, Dr. King had to do what was fitting for the situation. He had prepared in advance of the potential arrests that would come along with the protests. The Jim Crow laws of the south created such an injustice; going to jail was only a minor step in the major changes that were needed for the African-Americans of Birmingham and abroad.
In Dr. King’s letter, he expressed some poignant ideas that have challenged me in many ways. Having suffered injustices from two consecutive jobs (one regarding race and the other disability), I knew that there was a purpose for me to read this book. I am grieved that I had not done so sooner. However, I know that God’s timing could not have been any more perfect. I have come to learn that just because a particular law had been executed; it does not necessarily mean that such law is just. I agree completely with King that there are two true types of law: “just and unjust” (70). As a Christian, I am compelled to honor all laws. Yet, when the laws and ordinances affect the justice that is due to a constituent, then I have a right to disagree and speak against it. “Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application” (71). We as a people need to recognize the veracity in this statement, as well as recognize the just and injustice of any law.
Another thing that I found very interesting in Dr. King’s letter is his comparison of early Christians and the Christians in 1963. Historically, Christians remained united to take a stand against the Roman Empire. Oppression was not new to the Jewish people; however, with a newfound faith in Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit, God’s people had learned how to fight back against injustice. Unfortunately, this was not demonstrated with the Christians in Dr. King’s time. Then again, much division still remains. Dr. King was right on point when he said that “the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound” (80). There is not much strength in a divided nation. The first place that unity must take place is in the church. Given the history of what early Christians endured in their suppression, newer Christians should take into account of the past and maintain unity to fight against what defiles God’s, or human, law.
Imprisonment did not keep Dr. King and his supporters from fighting. I was blown away and was able to visualize the scene of when the marchers moved past the fire hoses (90). It was truly a move of God for the demonstrators to have been able to walk through the opposition lines and to continue marching. The demonstrators were relentless and determined for victory. They pushed until President Kennedy pulled on the ears and hearts of the Birmingham government. President Kennedy understood the importance for violence to cease and for peace to take residence in that town. It was a blessing that he intervened and supported Dr. King’s cause for justice. “It was one of the first times the federal government had taken so active a role in such circumstances” (92). The petals of justice were beginning to unravel, but it would take a long time for the flower of peace to completely blossom.
This book kept me on the edge. When I got to part that described the outcomes of Dr. King’s negotiations with Birmingham government, the Attorney General’s representative (Burke Marshall) and the merchant owners, I felt a sense of relief or a moment to exhale. But it was not the ending. Violence and struggle continued in Birmingham. Dr. King remained optimistic for Birmingham and hoped for it to “become a model in southern race relations” (99). King viewed his efforts in Birmingham to a “revolution that went on to win scores of other victories” (105). Though much still needed to be accomplished in Birmingham, there was still a victory to consider.
The days to come for the Negro race are still coming. My people are in a position that “forty acres and a mule” cannot fix. The “better days to come” have yet to reach us. America has its first African-American president; Dr. King has a memorial in place in Washington D.C.; African-Americans have made amazing progresses, discoveries, and inventions. Honestly, it sometimes feels like we have forgotten about the struggle and sacrifice that was made in Alabama. “What is the Negro willing to pay if we give him his freedom?” is such a prevalent question (117). What are we willing to pay? We may be able to sit at the same counter with someone is White, Jewish, Asian, or Latino. We may have the liberty to sit on any seat on the bus and we may have the freedom to sit in class next to a White person. But, our minds are not freed from bondage. I can firmly state that we need a change. Even today, we “need a powerful sense of determination to banish the ugly blemish of racism scarring the image of America” (119).
It took me a long time to develop my thoughts for this analysis because this book is packed with so much emotion, history, and urgency that I was left speechless, but powerful. Why We Can’t Wait literally takes the reader to a peak of the reason why the Black race could not wait in 1963; why we, as a people, still cannot afford to wait to gain justice. Throughout reading the book, two things came to mind: Aaron McGruder’s highly criticized depiction of what Dr. King would say to the Black race if he was alive today (The Boondocks, “Return of the King”) and the current divided state of Black America. Conclusion: It is still a time to act.