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In Her Own Words

I can’t believe that a government that has at its disposal a Federal Bureau of Investigation which cannot even find the murderers of Negroes, and by that method shows that it cares very little about American citizens who are black—really is off somewhere fighting a war for a bunch of other colored people, several thousand miles away. 

Lorraine Hansberry, speech given at the “The Black Revolution and the White Backlash” Forum at Town Hall sponsored by The Association of Artists for Freedom in New York City, June 15, 1964. Panelists included writers Paule Marshall, John O. Killens, Leroi Jones, and Charles Silberman, actors Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, producer David Susskind, and journalist James Wechsler.

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 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. 

. . .It grows out of a thought of mine, as I study history, that virtually all of us are what circumstances allow us to be and that it really doesn’t matter whether you are talking about the oppressed or the oppressor. An oppressive society will dehumanize and will dehumanize and degenerate everyone involved—and in certain very poetic and very true ways at the same time it will tend to make if anything the oppressed have more stature—because at least they are arbitrarily placed in the situation of overwhelming that which is degenerate—in this instance the slave society—so that it doesn’t become an abstraction. It has to do with what really happens to all of us in a certain context.

Lorraine Hansberry, unpublished transcript of “Playwright at Work” interview by Frank Perry for the National Educational Television Broadcasting System (PBS), WNET/Channel 13 NYC, May 21, 1961.

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.

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.

The ‘why’ of why we are here is an intrigue for adolescents.  The ‘how’ is what command the living which is why—I have lately become an insurgent again!

Sidney to David, Act II [two], Lorraine Hansberry, The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window with an Introduction by Robert Nemiroff. NY: Vintage, 1995. 

Do I remain a revolutionary? Intellectually—without a doubt. But am I prepared to give my body to the struggle or even my comforts? This is what I puzzle about.

Lorraine Hansberry. 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

Obviously, the most oppressed group of any oppressed group will be its women, who are twice oppressed. So I imagine that they react accordingly: as oppression makes people more militant, women become twice militant, because they are twice oppressed.

Lorraine Hansberry. “Interview with Lorraine Hansberry by Studs Terkel.” Radio interview with Studs Terkel, broadcast on WFMT Radio, Chicago, Illinois, May 12, 1959. Transcript reprinted in “Make New Sounds: Studs Terkel Interviews Lorraine Hansberry.” American Theater (November 1984): 6. 

I am a writer. I am going to write.

Lorraine Hansberry writing to Robert Nemiroff, December 26, 1952. In To Be Young Gifted and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words. Adapted by Robert Nemiroff with an introduction by James Baldwin, p.87. NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1969.