You Have to Be Prepared to Die Before You Can Begin to Live

Ten Weeks in Birmingham That Changed America

By Paul Kix
You Have To Be Prepared to Die Before You Can Begin To Live cover with NYT seal
Author: Paul Kix
ISBN: 9781250807694
ON SALE: 05/02/2023

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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.

Paul Kix, photo credit: Cara Paiuk
Paul Kix is an author and writer whose last book was The Saboteur, a bestselling and critically acclaimed true story of the most daring man in World War II. His writing has also appeared in The New YorkerThe AtlanticGQ, and ESPN The Magazine, among other publications. He lives in Connecticut with his family.

Praise for Paul Kix

“In lean and driving prose, following a plot with the energy of a whodunit, Paul Kix reanimates the 1963 campaign to liberate Birmingham… Kix knows the power of narrative velocity.”

Garden & Gun Magazine
Summer Reading List

“The 1963 campaign to integrate Birmingham, Ala., led to shocking brutality: youths blasted by fire hoses and set upon by snarling police dogs. Kix, a journalist, weaves those images into a harrowing narrative of a crucial juncture in the civil rights movement.”

The New York Times
Editors’ Choice

"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 riveting account of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s daring 1963 campaign to dismantle segregation in Birmingham, Alabama.”

The Christian Science Monitor
“Paul Kix brings cinematic flair to the story of the civil rights leader’s risky 1963 campaign to desegregate [Birmingham]. This is history as motion picture… The richness of Kix’s dramatis personae simply staggers.”
The New York Times

“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
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