Young, Gifted, and Black: Lorraine and Malcolm

May 19 marks the birthday of Malcolm X and Lorraine Hansberry, two of our most resonant voices of blackness and the fight for human rights. Both Malcolm and Lorraine departed from this world too soon; Malcolm was assassinated in Harlem at the age of 39 and Lorraine succumbed to pancreatic cancer at the age of 34. Though their lives were short, their words illuminated the world and provided the groundwork for revolution. 

Lorraine and Malcolm are inconvenient heroes. Both the mainstream media’s portrayal of X’s character and the lack of visibility of Hansberry’s voice are the product of people’s need to pick apart the legacies of icons to fit their own narratives. Their work did not allow much room for them to be co-opted. They were complicated and multifaceted figures whose commitment to upholding the boldness of blackness has pushed them to the margins of a narrative seeking to depict the movements associated with black arts and civil rights as docile, respectable, quietly resilient, and toothless.

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