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Est. April 5, 2002
March 07, 2019 - Issue 779

When Warriors Danced
Lorraine and James

"The artist needs the support of the community, but society
conspires against relationships that aren’t acknowledging the
centrality of Wall Street and white supremacy, kinship, community.
The artist is 'removed,' one way or the other, like in any war.
He or she 'falls silent and the people have lost another hope.'"

When Warriors Danced:

Lorraine and James

What about equality? Wanting to be equal within the white value structure?

JB: “‘Why in the world...What makes you think I want to be accepted...’”

LH: “‘...into this?’”

JB: “‘...into this?’”

LH: “‘Make something else.’”

JB: “‘Make something else. We have to remake this house.’”

LH: “‘Yes. And quickly!’”

JB: “‘And very quickly!’”

“The Negro in American Culture,” Interview, 1961

What was it like when the two lived, worked? Existed as as comrades, dear friends? Look at them—in one or the other’s apartment, in Chicago or in Paris. The two warriors. Lorraine is in the foreground, arms outstretched. She’s snapped her fingers, and her neck is turned to her left; but she’s not quite facing James, who, behind her, arms stretched out, too, seems to follow her moves. He’s snapping his right fingers to the beat of music playing on the record player or on a radio, out of view.

The warriors dancing in defiance.

And she is certainly out front.

Sweet Lorraine.

“That’s the way I always felt about her, and so I won’t apologize for calling her that now.”

In The Devil Finds Work, “The Congo Square,” James talks about watching a Joan Crawford film, Dance, Fool, Dance. While he’s at a loss trying to explain what a four year old remembers about the film’s plot, he does remember being aware that Joan Crawford was a white lady.

Sometime later, little James is sent to the store, and there his eyes fall on the face of a black women, as beautiful, “incredibly beautiful,” as the white lady he’d seen on screen days before. In fact, that lady in the store, “seemed to be wearing the sunlight, rearranging it around her from time to time, with a movement of one hand, and with her smile.” So many years later, when Jame’s an adult, he sees it’s Lorraine, wearing the sunlight.

Sweet Lorraine.

He recognizes their kinship. Partners. For it’s not the same as what he saw on the screen all those years before, no. James, all grown up, knows reality isn’t Hollywood.

The Fire Next Time is the expos´┐Ż of a black writer who understands the dangers of being a committed artist, for in the minds of most white Americans, such an artist is tethered not to the market, but instead to the realization of justice and democracy. And that realization is a threat to white identity as it reveals the contradictions and downright cracks in a narrative that only demeans and dehumanizes blacks and people of color. “The loss of their identity.” This is what they fear from someone like Lorraine who didn’t blink. Didn’t know how.

And even with the threat of isolation…

The United States, in its battle to oppress and exterminate difference, isolates “artists from the people.” It’s a tactic James knew all too well. Bitter James! Angry James!

I see it today, too, in a market-driven atmosphere. The bottom line: everything has to make a buck for Master.

The artist needs the support of the community, but society conspires against relationships that aren’t acknowledging the centrality of Wall Street and white supremacy, kinship, community. The artist is “removed,” one way or the other, like in any war. He or she “falls silent and the people have lost another hope.”

Oh, but Lorraine, Lorraine dared the Iron Boot to snuff out her light! She danced on!

I know very well, James writes in 1987, that my ancestors had no desire to come to this place; but neither did the ancestors of the people who became white and who require of my captivity a song. They require of me a song less to celebrate my captivity than to justify their own” (The Price of the Ticket). The Griot sang for no snake-oil salesman, and neither did his sweet Lorraine. While she’s alive, the sunlight guided their dance.

And he, James, the Griot, now sings of her: “that marvelous laugh. That marvelous face.”

Sweet Lorraine. “I loved her, she was my sister and my comrade.”

The first time I saw her… the first time… It was at the Actor’s Studio in 1957 or 1959. Winter. She came to the Workshop Production to see his, James’s, staging of his 1956 novel, Giovanni’s Room. There she was, Lorraine, sitting in “way up in the bleachers,” among the “biggest names,” in theater. While those big names didn’t appreciate the play, Lorraine did.

It must be the sunlight Lorraine wears. It’s Lorraine who arranges the sunlight to illuminate to James his worth as a warrior against injustice, regardless of the narrative critics write…

Look at Lorraine, sunlight surrounding James! She takes his breath away! He can’t speak.

It’s Lorraine seeming “to speak for me”!

And he’s “enormously grateful” as he watches her in admiration, talking to him “with a gentleness and generosity never to be forgotten.” Sweet Lorraine. So small and shy, but all the glitter of gold is no challenge to the radiance of her strength, “dictated by absolutely impersonal ambitions.” It wasn’t about “trying to ‘make it’--she was trying to keep the faith.” Shine for the people, Sweet Lorraine!

Even before this day, I saw her in Philadelphia… A Raisin in the Sun is on stage, and I’m standing backstage watching as Lorraine is “mobbed” after the curtains came down. “I stood there and watched. I watched the people who loved Lorraine for what she bought to them; and watched Lorraine, who loved the people for what they had brought to her...” Here was someone not for sale because “one is not merely an artist and one is not judged merely as an artist: the black people crowding around Lorraine, whether or not they consider her an artist, assuredly consider her a witness...”

And she, Lorraine Hansberry puts black women and black women’s lives on the stage to form a community of black artists who, in turn, always. Lorraine noted, “dissect and analyze,” in “a serious fashion,” those “ethical questions” plaguing our society. It’s high time “that ‘half the human race’ had something to say about the nature of its existence.”

And Lorraine and James danced. James, watching and listening, danced to her rhythm.

When so bright a light goes out so early, when so gifted an artist goes so soon, we are left with a sorrow and wonder which speculation cannot assuage. One is filled for a long time with a sense of injustice as futile as it is powerful… But I do not have the heart to presume to assess her work, for all of it, for me, was suffused with the light which was Lorraine.”

In the hospital room where Lorraine lies dying, she tries to speak to me but couldn’t. “She did not seem frightened or sad, only exasperated that her body no longer obeyed her; she smiled and waved. But I prefer to remember her as she was the last time I saw her on her feet...”

...dancing with James.

Sweet Lorraine,” Introduction to To Be Young, Gifted and Black

Sweet Lorraine,” James Baldwin: Collected Essays, The Library of America, NYC, New York, 1998 Editorial Board member and Columnist, Lenore Jean Daniels, PhD, has a Doctorate in Modern American Literature/Cultural Theory. Contact Dr. Daniels.




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