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05/20/12 , , ,

god has given us all kinds of greatness on may 19th.  in 1925, it was the legendary malcolm x. 1976, one of my favorite basketball players, kevin garnett.  of note here however was the 1930s gift wrapped up in ms. lorraine hansberry.

hansberry is most famous for her first play a raisin in the sun, but she has a permanent place in my heart for her autobiography to be young, gifted and black.  put together by her husband after cancer took her away, the book allows lorraine to share her life story through her plays, poems, speeches, letters, sketches, ideas and random musings.  it’s an eclectic read that pushes your mind and soul in places that they’ll thank you for later.

when asked what inspired her writing, she said this:

“I happen to believe that the most ordinary human being…has within him elements of profundity, of profound anguish.  You don’t have to go to the kings and queens of the earth – I think the Greeks and the Elizabethans did this because it was a logical concept – but every human being is in enormous conflict about something, even if it’s how to get to work in the morning and all of that…”

you’ll see how this belief resonates through her once you grab her books from the store or the library (hint, hint).  to give you a little taste in the meantime, check out this scene from her play the sign in sidney brustein’s window:


young black man of about



(With quiet, arresting intensity)

You don’t understand.  My father, you know, he was a railroad porter, who wiped up spit and semen, carried drinks and white man’s secrets for thirty years.  When the bell rang in the night he put on that white coat and his smile, and went shuffling through the corridors with his tray and his whisk broom, his paper bags and his smile, to wherever the white men were ringing…for thirty years.

And my mother–she was a domestic.  She always had, Mama did, bits of this and bits of that from the pantry, closet and refrigerator of “Miss Lady”–you know, some given, some stolen.  And she would always bring this booty home and sit it all out on the kitchen table so’s we could all look at it.  And my father–all the time he would stand there and look at it and walk away.  And then one night, he had some kind of fit, and he just reached out and knocked all that stuff, the jelly, and the piece of ham, the broken lamp and the sweater for me and the two little vases–he just knocked it all on the floor and stood there screaming with the tears running down his face: “I AIN’T GOING TO HAVE THE WHITE MAN’S LEAVINGS IN MY HOUSE, NO MO’! I AIN’T GOING TO HAVE HIS THROWAWAY…NO MO’!”

And Mama–she just stood there with her lips pursed together…and when he went to bed she just picked it all up, whatever hadn’t been ruined or smashed, and washed it off and brushed it off and put it in the closet…and we ate it and used it because we had to survive, and she didn’t have room for my father’s pride….

(Very quietly)

I don’t want white man’s leavings, Sidney.  Not now.  Not ever.


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  1. 1 of the many reasons why janelle monáe rocks | atolemdro reblogged this and added:

    […] janelle monáe, accepting the young, gifted & black award @ black girls rock! ’12.  you can find video of the speech at […]

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