You Have to Be Prepared to Die Before You Can Begin to Live: Ten Weeks in Birmingham That Changed America
From journalist Paul Kix, the riveting story, never before fully told, of the 1963 Birmingham Campaign—ten weeks that would shape the course of the Civil Rights Movement and the future of America.
It’s one of the iconic photographs of American history: A Black teenager, a policeman and his lunging German Shepherd. Birmingham, Alabama, May of 1963. In May of 2020, as reporter Paul Kix stared at a different photo–that of a Minneapolis police officer suffocating George Floyd–he kept returning to the other photo taken half a century earlier, haunted by its echoes. What, Kix wondered, was the full legacy of the Birmingham photo? And of the campaign it stemmed from?
In You Have To Be Prepared To Die Before You Can Begin To Live, Paul Kix takes the reader behind the scenes as he tells the story of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s pivotal 10 week campaign in 1963 to end segregation in Birmingham, Alabama. At the same time, he also provides a window into the minds of the four extraordinary men who led the campaign—Martin Luther King, Jr., Wyatt Walker, Fred Shuttlesworth, and James Bevel. With page-turning prose that read like a thriller, Kix’s book is the first to zero in on the ten weeks of Project C, as it was known—its specific history and its echoes sounding throughout our culture now. It’s about Where It All Began, for sure, but it’s also the key to understanding Where We Are Now and Where We Will Be. As the fight for equality continues on many fronts, Project C is crucial to our understanding of our own time and the impact that strategic activism can have.
Praise for You Have to Be Prepared to Die Before You Can Begin to Live: Ten Weeks in Birmingham That Changed America
“Through the careful accretion of intimate detail, Paul Kix makes a convincing case that Birmingham 1963 was the linchpin of the civil rights era and perhaps the most consequential ten-week period in modern American history. His portraits of the Birmingham saga's many heroes (sung and unsung) are poignant, revealing, and finely drawn."
–Hampton Sides, New York Times bestselling author of Hellhound on His Trail
"Journalist Kix delivers a gripping, novelistic account of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s campaign to desegregate Birmingham, Ala., in 1963… Readers will be riveted from the first page to the last."
–Publishers Weekly, starred review
"An eloquent contribution to the literature of civil rights and the ceaseless struggle to attain them."
–Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Journalist Kix masterfully follows the story of the protests, from the early planning stages through the demonstrations and city officials’ violent responses... A meticulously written and researched history in all its complexity.”
—Library Journal, starred review
"You Have to Be Prepared to Die Before You Can Begin to Live walks us, in profound detail, through the long days and nights that would lead to the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. It offers specifics of heroism never before or rarely enough told. And it unpacks, without sensation, opportunities disrupted so that our generation may learn, and in learning, claim our own for our role in the bending of that storied moral arc. For we who count ourselves among those specific numbers, join me in welcoming, gratefully, Paul Kix’s brilliantly documented and beautifully rendered testimony, a life-giving offering to his children. And mine. And yours."
–asha bandele, New York Times bestselling author, activist, and poet
"This is the story of the ten weeks that gave America the 'Letter from the Birmingham Jail,' a tight, powerful, emotional history that seemed to alter our nation forever; and at the same time, this narrative is its own letter from a jail, the existential one of a man raising Black children in modern America. This is a letter, and a poem, and a prayer, and in the end, a map: a document that takes us into a dark past to show us all the way back into the light."
–Wright Thompson, New York Times bestselling author of The Cost of These Dreams and Pappyland
"A great book, and it could not be timelier, as America continues to grapple with the transgenerational consequences of racism on our society. Paul Kix combines meticulous research with masterful storytelling to present vivid behind-the-scenes insights into the people, passions, and politics that propelled the ten-week 1963 Birmingham campaign into a civil rights milestone. With both sweep and arresting detail, this page-turner illuminates the human complexities, fears, frailties, and inner workings of iconic leaders and their organizations along with the strategies behind the signs, slogans, and sound bites that changed American life forever. You Have to Be Prepared to Die Before You Can Begin to Live is a must-read for every student of history."
–Stacey Patton, author of Spare the Kids