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In Her Own Words

Considering Mattachine, Bilitis, ONE, all seem to be cropping up on the West Coast rather than here [on the East Coast] where a vigorous and active gay set almost bump one another off the streets—what is it in the air out there? Pioneers still? Or a tougher circumstance which inspires battle?

Lorraine Hansberry.. Letter, signed LHN, originally published in The Ladder Vol. 1 No. 8 (May 1957): 26, 28. Reprinted in The Ladder Vol. I and II. Introduction by Barbara Grier (Gene Damon, pseudonym). NY: Arno Press, 1975. 

I think it is about time that equipped women began to take on some of the ethical questions which a male-dominated culture has produced and dissect and analyze them quite to pieces in a serious fashion. It is time that ‘half the human race’ had something to say about the nature of its existence. Otherwise—without revised basic thinking—the woman intellectual is likely to find herself trying to draw conclusions—moral conclusions—based on acceptance of a social moral superstructure which has never admitted to the equality of women and is therefore immoral itself. 

 Lorraine Hansberry. Letter, signed LN originally published in The Ladder Vol. 1 No. 11 (Aug 1957). Reprinted in The Ladder Vol. I and II. Introduction by Barbara Grier (Gene Damon, pseudonym. NY: Arno Press, 1975.

I was born on the Southside of Chicago. I was born black and a female. I was born in a depression after one world war and came into adolescence during another. While I was still in my teens, the first atom bombs were dropped on human beings and by the time I was twenty-three years old my government and that of the Soviet Union had entered actively into the worst conflict of nerves in history—the Cold War.

Lorraine Hansberry, “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.

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. 

I have suspected for a good time that the homosexual in America would ultimately pay a price for the intellectual impoverishment of women. Men continue to mis-interpret the second-rate status of women as implying a privileged status for themselves; heterosexuals think the same way about homosexuals; gentiles about Jews; whites about blacks; haves about have-nots.

Lorraine Hansberry, 1961 unpublished essay titled, “On Homophobia, The Intellectual Impoverishment of Women and a Homosexual ‘Bill of Rights.'"

If by some miracle women should not ever utter a single protest against their condition there would still exist among men those who could not endure in peace until her liberation had been achieved. 

Lorraine Hansberry, unpublished essay. As cited in Stephen Carter, Hansberry’s Drama: Commitment amid Complexity. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991. 

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. 

As one raised in a subculture experience (I am a Negro) where those within were and are forever lecturing to their fellows about how to appear acceptable to the dominant social groups, I know something about the shallowness of such a view in and of itself…what ought to be clear is that one is oppressed or discriminated against because one is ‘different’, not ‘wrong’ or ‘bad.’ This is perhaps the bitterest of the entire pill.

Lorraine Hansberry, letter to The Ladder, Vol. 1 No. 8 (May, 1957). 

I'm glad as heck that you exist. You are obviously serious people and I feel that women, without wishing to foster any strict separatist notions, homo or hetero, indeed have a need for their own publications and organizations. Our problems, our experiences as women are profoundly unique as compared to the other half of the human race. Women, like other oppressed groups of one kind or another, have particularly had to pay a price for the intellectual impoverishment that the second class status imposed on us for centuries created and sustained. Thus, I feel that The Ladder is a fine, elementary step in a rewarding direction.

Lorraine Hansberry. Letter, signed LHN, originally published in The Ladder Vol. 1 No. 8 (May 1957): 26, 28. Reprinted in The Ladder Vol. I and II. Introduction by Barbara Grier (Gene Damon, pseudonym). NY: Arno Press, 1975.