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You Have To Be Prepared to Die Before You Can Live: Ten Weeks in Birmingham that Changed America by Paul Kix


Paul Kix spent many days as a writer for Boston Magazine, an editor for ESPN the Magazine, and freelanced with GQ Magazine. Being married to a Black woman from Houston and the father of biracial children, the events of George Floyd’s murder on national TV during the pandemic created an existential moment for him between despair and hope. How could Kix find the resources of Black hope in a racially polarized nation in 2020?

He then remembered a picture of a calm young black teenager as he was bitten by a police dog in Birmingham, Ala., in May 1963. Why was the young man not afraid? It became the impetus for Kix’s book, You Have to Be Prepared to Die Before You Can Live, which details the lead-up to the civil rights demonstrations that prompted the most segregated city in the South—Birmingham, Ala.—into the national spotlight via the South Christian Leadership Conference led by Martin Luther King Jr. The Birmingham protest that was captured on national television was the event that forced President John Kennedy to push for civil rights legislation.

Kix takes the reader inside the internal conflicts about King’s leadership and the prophetic imagination of James Bevel, who inspired black teenagers to risk death and imprisonment for a future their parents never believed could happen. Readers learn about the charismatic leadership of Rev. Fred Shuttleworth, who uttered the title of the book about his many beatings and threats by white citizens, who were against any changes to life under Jim Crow. Kix keeps the reader engaged with his fast-paced storytelling that feels like a movie script.

This book is an excellent resource for book discussions, personal growth, and encouragement, especially for those who want to be allies in the continuing fight for civil rights among Black and brown image bearers. (MacMillan)

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