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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.

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. 

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'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.

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.

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).

…All art is ultimately social; that which agitates and that which prepares the mind for slumber. The writer is deceived who thinks that he has some other choice.  The question is not whether one will make a social statement in one’s work—but only what the statement will say, for if it says anything at all, it will be social.

Lorraine Hansberry, “The Negro Writer and His Roots: Toward a New Romanticism” The Black Scholar, Volume 12, Number 1, March/April 1981, p.5. Originally presented to The American Society of African Culture on March 1, 1959.