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In Her Own Words

I wanted to be able to come here and speak with you on this occasion because you are young, gifted, and black…I, for one, can think of no more dynamic combination that a person might be. . . And that is why I say to you that, though it be a thrilling and marvelous thing to be merely young and gifted in such times, it is doubly so, doubly dynamic—to be young, gifted, and black

Lorraine Hansberry speech, “The Nation Needs Your Gifts,” given to Readers Digest/United Negro College Fund creative writing contest winners, NYC, May 1, 1964. 

Hannibal: “Me? I am the only kind of slave I could stand to be—a bad one.  Every day that come and hour that pass that I got sense to make a half step do for a whole, every day that I can pretend sickness ‘stead of health; to be stupid ‘stead of smart, lazy ‘stead of quick—I aims to do it. And the more pain it give Marster and the more it cost him—the more Hannibal be a man!”

Les Blancs: The Collected Last Plays. Includes The Drinking Gourd and What Use are Flowers? Edited, with critical background by Robert Nemiroff. With a Foreword by Jewell Handy Gresham Nemiroff and an Introduction by Margaret B. Wilkerson. Edition. New York: Vintage Books, 1994. 

I am ashamed of being alone. Or is it my loneliness that I am ashamed of? I have closed the shutters so that no one can see. Me. Alone.

Lorraine Hansberry, Easter, 1962. Lorraine Hansberry, To Be Young Gifted and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words. Adapted by Robert Nemiroff with an introduction by James Baldwin. NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1969.

I wish to live because life has within it that which is good, that which is beautiful, and that which is love. Therefore, since I have known all of these things, I have found them to be reason enough and—I wish to live. Moreover, because this is so, I wish others to live for generations and generations and generations and generations.

Lorraine Hansberry, speech given to fellow black writers at the American Society of African Culture conference of Negro Writers, “The American Negro Writer and His Roots,” March 1, 1959. “The Negro Writer and His Roots: Towards a New Romanticism,” speech given at the American Society of African Culture, First Conference of Negro Writers, March 1, 1959. The Black Scholar Vol. 12, No. 2 (March/April 1981), pp. 2–12

Sidney: I care! I care about it all. It takes too much energy not to care! Yesterday I counted 26 gray hairs on the top of my head—all from trying not to care.

Sidney to David, Act I in Lorraine Hansberry, The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window: A Drama in Two Acts, Revised Stage Edition. Acting Edition. New York: Samuel French, Inc., 1993.

I don’t think people start out in this world to be bad. They start out to be happy.

Lorraine Hansberry, letter to The Ladder, 1957.

Never, never again must the Negro people pay the price that they have paid for allowing their oppressor to say who is or is not a fit leader of our cause.

Lorraine Hansberry, tribute speech on W.E.B. Dubois, Carnegie Hall, NYC, February 23, 1963.

A device is a device, but. . .it also has consequences: once invented it takes on a life, a reality of its own. So, in one century, men invoke the device of religion to cloak their conquests. In another, race. Now, in both cases you and I may recognize the fraudulence of the device, but the fact remains that a man who has a sword run through him because he refuses to become a Moslem or a Christian—or who is shot in Zatembe or Mississippi because he is black—is suffering the utter reality of the device. And it is pointless to pretend that it doesn’t exist—merely because it is a lie!

Tsembe to Charlie, Act Two, Les Blancs. In Lorraine Hansberry, Les Blancs: The Collected Last Plays. Includes The Drinking Gourd and What Use are Flowers? Edited, with critical background by Robert Nemiroff. With a Foreword by Jewell Handy Gresham Nemiroff and an Introduction by Margaret B. Wilkerson. Edition. New York: Vintage Books, 1994. 

I think, then, that Negroes must concern themselves with every single means of struggle: legal, illegal, passive, active, violent and non-violent. That they must harass, debate, petition, give money to court struggles, sit-in, lie-down, strike, boycott, sing hymns, pray on steps—and shoot from their windows when the racists come cruising through their communities. 

Lorraine Hansberry, letter to white southerner Kenneth Merryman on April 27, 1962. In To Be Young Gifted and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words. Adapted by Robert Nemiroff with an introduction by James Baldwin, p.213–214. NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1969.

Quite simply and quietly as I know how to say it: I am sick of poverty, lynching, stupid wars and the universal mal-treatment of my people and obsessed with a rather desperate desire for a new world for me and my brothers. So dear friend [sic] I must go to jail. 

Lorraine Hansberry, Letter to Dear Edythe, New York City, 1951. In To Be Young Gifted and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words. Adapted by Robert Nemiroff with an introduction by James Baldwin, p. 83. NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1969.