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In Her Own Words

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.

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 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.

. . .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.

Despair? Did someone say despair was a question in the world? Well then, listen to the sons of those who have known little else if you wish to know the resiliency of this thing you would so quickly resign to mythhood, this thing called the human spirit. 

Lorraine Hansberry, “The Negro Writer and His Roots: Toward a New Romanticism,” The Black Scholar Volume 12 (March/April 1981), p.7

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. 

If the world is engaged in a dispute between survival and destruction...then we, as members of the human race, must address ourselves to that dispute. 

Lorraine Hansberry, “The Negro Writer and His Roots: Toward a New Romanticism,” The Black Scholar 12 (March/April 1981): 3 

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.

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.