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In Her Own Words

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.

. . .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.

I would very much like to live in a world where some of the monumental problems could at least be solved; I'm thinking, of course, of peace.  That is, we don't fight. Nobody fights.  We get rid of all the little bombs-- and the big bombs.

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.253–254. 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. 

I think that imagination has no bounds in realism—you can do anything which is permissible in terms of the truths of the characters. That’s all you have to care about.

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. 

If anything should happen—before ‘tis done—may I trust that all commas and periods will be placed and someone will complete my thoughts—This last should be the least difficult—since there are so many who think as I do—

Lorraine Hansberry, undated. In To Be Young Gifted and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words. Adapted by Robert Nemiroff with an introduction by James Baldwin, p. 261. 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.