When Warriors Danced:
Lorraine and James
What about equality? Wanting to
be equal within the white value structure?
in the world...What makes you think I want to be accepted...’”
something else. We have to remake this house.’”
Negro in American Culture,” Interview, 1961
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.
warriors dancing in defiance.
she is certainly out front.
the way I always felt about her, and so I won’t apologize for
calling her that now.”
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.
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
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
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.
even with the threat of isolation…
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!
see it today, too, in a market-driven atmosphere. The bottom line:
everything has to make a buck for Master.
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.”
but Lorraine, Lorraine dared the Iron Boot to snuff out her light!
She danced on!
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.
he, James, the Griot, now sings of her: “that marvelous laugh.
That marvelous face.”
“I loved her, she was my sister and my comrade.”
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.
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…
at Lorraine, sunlight surrounding James! She takes his breath away!
He can’t speak.
Lorraine seeming “to speak for me”!
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!
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...”
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
Lorraine and James danced. James, watching and listening, danced to
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.”
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
Lorraine,” Introduction to To Be Young, Gifted and Black
Lorraine,” James Baldwin: Collected Essays, The
Library of America, NYC, New York, 1998