Why We Can’t Wait

by

Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Nonviolent direct action is a form of activism that uses nonviolence tactics to assert power and apply pressure in an effort to bring about change.

Nonviolent Direct Action Quotes in Why We Can’t Wait

The Why We Can’t Wait quotes below are all either spoken by Nonviolent Direct Action or refer to Nonviolent Direct Action. For each quote, you can also see the other terms and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
History, Progress, and Change Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Signet edition of Why We Can’t Wait published in 2000.
Chapter 1 Quotes

“If you had sneezed during all those hours of waiting," Dr. Maynard said, “your aorta would have been punctured and you would have drowned in your own blood."

In the summer of 1963 the knife of violence was just that close to the nation's aorta. Hundreds of cities might now be mourning countless dead but for the operation of certain forces which gave political surgeons an opportunity to cut boldly and safely to remove the deadly peril.

Related Characters: Martin Luther King, Jr. (Dr. King) (speaker)
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

Nonviolent direct action did not originate in America, but it found its natural home in this land, where refusal to cooperate with injustice was an ancient and honorable tradition and where Christian forgiveness was written into the minds and hearts of good men.

Related Characters: Martin Luther King, Jr. (Dr. King) (speaker)
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2 Quotes

When, for decades, you have been able to make a man compromise his manhood by threatening him with a cruel and unjust punishment, and when suddenly he turns upon you and says: “Punish me. I do not deserve it. But because I do not deserve it, I will accept it so that the world will know that I am right and you are wrong," you hardly know what to do. You feel defeated and secretly ashamed. You know that this man is as good a man as you are; that from some mysterious source he has found the courage and the conviction to meet physical force with soul force.

Related Characters: Martin Luther King, Jr. (Dr. King) (speaker)
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

The eye-for-an-eye philosophy, the impulse to defend oneself when attacked, has always been held as the highest measure of American manhood. We are a nation that worships the frontier tradition, and our heroes are those who champion justice through violent retaliation against injustice. It is not simple to adopt the credo that moral force has as much strength and virtue as the capacity to return a physical blow; or that to refrain from hitting back requires more will and bravery than the automatic reflexes of defense.

Related Characters: Martin Luther King, Jr. (Dr. King) (speaker)
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was “well-timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation.

Related Characters: Martin Luther King, Jr. (Dr. King) (speaker)
Related Symbols: The White Clergymen
Page Number: 91
Explanation and Analysis:
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Nonviolent Direct Action Term Timeline in Why We Can’t Wait

The timeline below shows where the term Nonviolent Direct Action appears in Why We Can’t Wait. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: The Negro Revolution—Why 1963?
Unity, Community Organizing, and Leadership Theme Icon
Religion, Morality, and Hope Theme Icon
...the defining elements of the push for racial equality in 1963 was the focus on nonviolent direct action . Dr. King sees this nonviolence as something that aligns with Christian values—values that are,... (full context)
Chapter 2: The Sword That Heals
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Religion, Morality, and Hope Theme Icon
...In fact, the threat of imprisonment has long prevented Black people from pursuing freedom. But nonviolent direct action changed this: by willingly accepting—and even hoping for—imprisonment, Black protestors mystified police officers, who were... (full context)
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Religion, Morality, and Hope Theme Icon
Dr. King believes in the power of nonviolent direct action because it neutralizes the threats that have historically kept Black people from standing up against... (full context)
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Faced with many challenges, Dr. King says that Black Americans found hope in nonviolent direct action . There was even a rich history of nonviolent activism to draw upon, since similarly... (full context)
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Dr. King considers why it took so long for Black Americans to embrace nonviolent direct action . One reason is that not everyone agreed about the best tactic to address oppression.... (full context)
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In fact, nonviolent direct action goes quite well with the legal approach. After all, part of practicing nonviolent direct action... (full context)
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Unity, Community Organizing, and Leadership Theme Icon
...the biggest southern industrial city, and it had a history of extreme racism and segregation. Nonviolent direct action , Dr. King notes, was the perfect tactic to use in such a city. Although... (full context)
Chapter 4: New Day in Birmingham
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Unity is an important part of any direct-action campaign, Dr. King argues. Therefore, he and his associates made a point of visiting multiple... (full context)
Chapter 5: Letter from Birmingham Jail
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Religion, Morality, and Hope Theme Icon
Complacency, Ignorance, and the Status Quo Theme Icon
...proceedings, and the many unsolved bombings of Black homes and churches—all clear illustrations of why nonviolent direct action is necessary in Birmingham. (full context)
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Unity, Community Organizing, and Leadership Theme Icon
Complacency, Ignorance, and the Status Quo Theme Icon
...the clergymen might think that negotiation would be a better way to fight segregation than direct action , Dr. King clarifies that the goal of the demonstrations has been to force the... (full context)
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Unity, Community Organizing, and Leadership Theme Icon
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Complacency, Ignorance, and the Status Quo Theme Icon
...wait for freedom has been so long that, if Black people are kept from practicing nonviolent direct action , Dr. King is sure they will join the ranks of more extreme causes. (full context)
Chapter 7: The Summer of Our Discontent
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Complacency, Ignorance, and the Status Quo Theme Icon
...to look to. The sense of helplessness gave way to a sense of “confidence” through nonviolent direct action . The demonstrators in Birmingham didn’t wait for freedom and equality—they took it for themselves.... (full context)
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Complacency, Ignorance, and the Status Quo Theme Icon
...succeed. Birmingham will achieve racial equality one way or another, either willingly or through new direct-action efforts. (full context)
Chapter 8: The Days to Come
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Unity, Community Organizing, and Leadership Theme Icon
...unable to assert their influence. By 1964, however, the civil rights movement made it possible—through nonviolent direct action —for Black people to become more politically active. (full context)
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Unity, Community Organizing, and Leadership Theme Icon
Religion, Morality, and Hope Theme Icon
Complacency, Ignorance, and the Status Quo Theme Icon
...address this issue, then it will have managed to improve the nation’s overall unity. And nonviolent direct action , Dr. King argues, is the way to achieve this unity. After all, he believes... (full context)