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In Her Own Words

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Lorraine Hansberry, unpublished transcript of “Playwright at Work” interview by Frank Perry for the National Educational Television Broadcasting System (PBS), WNET/Channel 13 NYC, May 21,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

I sit at this desk for hours and hours and sharpen pencils and smoke cigarettes and switch from play to play—Sidney, Touissant, Les Blancs and—nothing happens. I begin to think more and more of doing something else with my life while I am still young. I mean, almost anything—driving an ambulance in Angola or running a ski lodge in upstate New York, instead of this endless struggle. I expect the theatre will kill me.

Lorraine Hansberry, Journal entry, September 16, 1964.

And as of today, if I am asked abroad if I am a free citizen of the United States of America, I must only say what is true:  No. 

Lorraine Hansberry. “The Negro Writer and His Roots: Towards a New Position.” Originally printed as “A Destiny is in the Stars” in Crisis, 1969 and reprinted in The Black Scholar, Vol. 12 No. 2. (March/April 1981): 2–12. 

We’ve been trying very hard. . .in America to pretend that this greatest conflict didn’t even have at its base the only thing it had at its base. . . Person after person will write a book today and insist that slavery was not the issue. 

Lorraine Hansberry. “…Integration into a Burning House.” From a radio symposium on “The Negro Writer in America” on January 1, 1961; two excerpts from a Civil War Centennial program that included James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Nat Hentoff, Alfred Kazin, and Emile Capouya. 4:49. Lorraine Hansberry Speaks Out: Art and the Black Revolution. Harper Audio/Caedmon: Abridged edition (April 2009).

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. 

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.