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Against the "starless midnight of racism and war": African American intellectuals and the antinuclear agenda.

Early in Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun (1959), an anxious and distracted Walter Lee Younger reads the paper, as per the playwright's stage directions, "vaguely," and announces to his estranged wife Ruth, "Set off another bomb yesterday." (1) The average postwar playgoer--and even the skilled contemporary critic--approaching this text with an awareness of its primary themes of racial identity and civil rights might assume that the "bomb" Walter mentions was one directed by racist whites against a black church or neighborhood. (2) Yet it is equally if not more likely that Walter refers to a crisis less local and more international in scope: the above-ground nuclear tests that had been conducted by the United States and Russia since the early 1950s that would continue until 1962. As vital as the subject of racial equality was to Hansberry, as were the attendant issues of neighborhood segregation and racially motivated terrorist bombing, she frequently addressed the atomic threat in her essays, dialogues, and dramatic works. In one memorable interview she insisted that we "get rid of all the little bombs--and the big bombs," (3) and in fact Hansberry, like many peace-loving African American intellectuals of the period, shifted freely between the causes of nuclear disarmament and civil rights from one project to the next, or even within the same work. While racially motivated home-bombing becomes an increasingly central issue in Raisin, the significance of the atomic bomb was so basic to Hansberry's own worldview that her characters take note of related developments almost casually, in perfect keeping with their atomic-era context.

Specifically, we might assume a nuclear referent in Waiter's opening remark because of the way he couches the topic. Instead of saying "they bombed another church today" or "there was another bombing on the South Side," Waiter's emphasis on the "setting off" indicates that this bomb's target is less significant (in the case of a nuclear test it is nonexistent) than the political and biological hazards involved with the detonation itself. Too, Walter's "vague" comment on the subject, followed by Ruth's response of "maximum indifference," pairs with another item he reports in his continued attempt to win over his wife with small talk safely removed from their immediate domestic travails: "Say Colonel McCormick is sick." His remark refers to Robert R. McCormick, the archconservative publisher of the Chicago Tribune, indicating that the Youngers' morning paper is the middle-class Tribune, where McCormick's well-being would have been front-section news, instead of the Sun-Times, favored by Chicago's South Side working classes for decades. Very likely, Hansberry's own affluent South Side family were Tribune subscribers, and Hansberry either failed to correct for the class difference between herself and her characters, or subtly indicated the sophisticated reading interests of this poor but respectable family for pointed political reasons. Not surprisingly, Ruth responds to her husband's report with "tea-party interest": "Is he now? Poor thing" and goes back to scrambling eggs for his breakfast.

While few would question Ruth's indifference to McCormick under even the best of domestic circumstances, the issue becomes whether the atomic bomb figures as similarly meaningless, as removed from Ruth's experience as a struggling but proud African American woman as is the prognosis for some oligarch. In a later scene the tables are turned when wealthy, snobbish George Murchison awaits the appearance of Ruth's sister-in-law Beneatha (who shares the Younger apartment) and Ruth must preside over her own session of small-talk, "determined to demonstrate the civilization of her family." Following a remark about the hot weather--described in the stage notes as "this cliche of cliche's"--Ruth indicates her knowledge of the atomic events she dismissed in a graver but more authentic moment at the opening of the play: "Everybody says [the heat's] got to do with them bombs and things they keep setting off. (Pause.) Would you like a nice cold beer?" No one is surprised to learn that George doesn't "care for beer." (4)

Recent Raisin interpreters read Ruth's comment here as another reference to racially motivated bombing, (5) but her jocular tone on this social occasion is hardly conducive to the introduction of such a serious subject about which we see later that Ruth cares a great deal. Too, the race-based reading ignores Ruth's comment about the unseasonably hot weather, popularly feared as caused by atomic bombings--and addressed in news media, including African American weeklies such as the New York Amsterdam News--since the days of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (6) Finally, as with Waiter's report of the item that opened the play, Ruth uses the "set off" phrasing to indicate that she is more likely discussing an atmospheric detonation than a targeted attack. Ruth's vague and ungrammatical reference to "them bombs and things" therefore indicates her underlying indifference to and discomfort with the subject of the atom bomb, despite her attempt to demonstrate otherwise on the occasion of impressing an upwardly mobile family connection. George is unfazed by this reference to the bomb, and Ruth might have had a more fruitful conversation on the subject with Beneatha's other suitor, the African intellectual Joseph Asagai, whose solid grounding in self, culture, and history is cast by the play as the preferred alternative to George's superficial emphases on white forms of entertainment and personal appearance. Ruth never has this opportunity, however, and the play thus closes without answering certain questions about the significance of the bomb for African Americans of this period. Did only phonies like George or exotic foreigners like Joseph care about the issue, or is Hansberry's point that any American would take the bomb seriously, were she not so burdensomely distracted by the host of more urgent problems (cramped living quarters, unwanted pregnancy, thwarted dreams) facing Ruth and her family?

The tension in the play, between race matters and nuclear fears, is underscored when the offhanded interest taken in the atomic bomb by Waiter Lee and Ruth is contrasted to the intense focus given to another bombing reported in the papers that hits much closer to home: a racially motivated attack against a black family integrating a white neighborhood. The event is announced later in the story by nosey Mrs. Johnson, who crosses the hallway in order to crow about the dangers imminent in the Youngers' impending move to all-white Clybourne Park. Significantly, the family plans their move to escape their long-held, rundown, and overpopulated apartment. While their "ghetto" residence is undesirable in its own right, a "nuclear" reading is possible as well: bomb-shelter conditions are invoked by this crowded, stressful, deteriorated setting, especially the makeshift image of the Youngers' son Travis sleeping each night on the couch. In accordance with the resonant last line--"or does it explode?"--from Langston Hughes's "Harlem (A Dream Deferred)," whence Hansberry borrows the title of her play, the cramped conditions create a powder-keg situation. Ruth and Beneatha long to break out of their circumstances, while Walter Lee's nervous, explosive energy menaces his family from the opening moments. Hughes's own poem, written in 1951, is readable for its "atomic" shadings, echoes of his more explicit response to atomic weaponry and the atomic age found in his popular journalism. Even Michelle Gordon's trenchant analysis of the "rats and roaches" infesting the Youngers' tenement dwelling lends itself to an atomic interpretation, since these two species of vermin, thought hearty enough to survive even nuclear Armageddon, have been often rhetorically deployed to depict a nightmarish post-nuclear landscape. (7)

More centrally, Raisin's main plot involves Ruth and Mama's dream of using Mama's insurance money for a down payment on a single-family home somewhere less central to the city. Thus the Youngers are as interested to flee their crowded inner city neighborhood, endangered by both crime and nuclear war, as were their white counterparts of the postwar generation, (8) Walter Lee's dream of staying downtown, and opening a liquor store with his ultimately untrustworthy friends, is presented as ultimately misguided. When racist whites from the suburbs show up to talk the Youngers out of their planned move, Walter Lee is galvanized to do the right thing, opting for a gesture that is simultaneously a strike for civil rights and a precaution taken to protect his family from urban incineration should the nuclear unthinkable occur. Of course a smaller-scale bombing against the family is entirely too thinkable. While their move may shelter them from increasingly likely nuclear attack, it invites retaliation from racist neighbors, so that the Youngers--and the play as a whole--are caught within an intractable dilemma: whether it was safer to stay in the city where the nuclear threat might forever be deferred or whether this threat was sufficiently imminent to play a meaningful role in the personal and political motivations of many postwar African Americans to flee the deteriorating urban core at any cost.

While Hansberry wrote with force, eloquence, and notable frequency against the threat posed by the bomb, her play crystallizes the difficulties faced by numerous African Americans, both ordinary citizens like the Youngers and artist-intellectuals like Hansberry herself, to reconcile the competing concerns of racial equality and nuclear brinksmanship in the decades following World War II. Each of the leading thinkers in focus below--the 1963 March on Washington organizer and renowned pacifist Bayard Rustin, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Hansberry--by turns compared, combined, and wrestled with the dual calling of civil rights protest and antinuclear activism, the postwar period's two must urgent issues for progressively minded Americans, including many African Americans. Thomas C. Fleming, chief opinion-maker for the African American weekly the San Francisco Sun-Reporter, read the bomb, however nihilistically, as fundamentally enabling of the courageous and daring, civil rights-demanding African American youth of the period: "Since they might be living on borrowed time, they would like to achieve the status of human dignity before that time expires," (9) While Fleming cites "such youngsters as Martin Luther King" as leading the charge in this context, in fact King was less likely to regard the bomb as an opened floodgate than as a moral gatekeeper, casting its shadow over human conflict and by its very existence mandating improving relations amongst warring groups. If Fleming linked the growing imminence of nuclear war with the growing danger (i.e., challenging effectiveness) of the civil rights movement, King argued that the only way to neutralize the nuclear threat was to shift immediately and universally from antagonism to brotherhood. Working from creatively oblique angles, both pragmatists like Fleming and inspirational thinkers such as King responded to the threat posed by the bomb while also placing the prospect of nuclear jeopardy in the service of civil rights achievement, creating a symbiotic relationship between the reality of the former and the inevitability of the latter. For both, the only solution to nuclear fear, and even to nuclear annihilation, was to create a world of democratic equality until and against that reckoning day.

The evermore dramatically reached milestones of the civil rights era not only coincided with but frequently competed for attention with each escalation in the nuclear arms race: the atomic-induced end to war brought massive job loss to the black community, the victorious narrative of the Montgomery bus boycott stole thunder from the lackluster civil defense drills of the mid-1950s, and the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 shared headlines with the story of James Meredith's heroic integration of Ole Miss. Despite the integrated peace protests that indeed occurred, the two movements' diverging goals were difficult to ignore. Civil rights leaders may have felt (or may have been encouraged to feel) that foreign policy was outside their purview. (10) As Marian Mollin has observed, the tactics of peace protesters--bohemian dress and comportment, picketing nuclear installations where lucrative, nondiscriminatory jobs were available--alienated members of local freedom movements who sought equality by emphasizing their middle-class respectability and their adherence to conservative values. (11) So vital were the issues of racial justice and nuclear nonproliferation that it was difficult to not care deeply about both. Yet so significant and complex was each that many found themselves alternating between, or having to choose between, the two. Finally, all three of the thinkers considered here, among many other African American intellectuals of the postwar period, left a rich legacy of moving commitment to both racial equality and a world freed from nuclear threat. (12) Even the ways in which each failed at times to surmount the dilemma the two issues created only further particularized and dimensionalized their lives and work.


A distinction between activist work and written texts enables deeper understanding of the diverse forms of bomb opposition accomplished by these three thinkers. Though his paper trail is not negligible, Bayard Rustin is remembered mainly as a mover and shaker; early in life he was a globetrotting activist who, mid-career, faced the impossible need to be in two places (often on different continents) at once, and for numerous reasons chose finally to commit himself to civil rights activism on American soil full-time. King was an activist-preacher whose mission it was to write and speak to both his congregation and the wider society, and Hansberry a professional writer cut off by early death from more active forms of community service and whose legacy comes therefore mainly from the written word. It was Rustin among the three who finally chose to turn definitively from antinuclear protest to organizing for civil rights full-time, while the writers King and Hansberry moved freely and effectively between these subjects from one written work to the next, even--through the power of metaphor, analogy, and other figurative language--arguing against racial injustice and nuclear war in the same stroke. So ultimately divergent were these two issues' causes, effects, and core constituencies, however, that even the flexible and sophisticated verbal medium employed by King and Hansberry occasionally demonstrated a parting of the ways, with one cause most forcefully advocated at the rhetorical expense of the other.

Rustin was born into a Quaker family in West Chester, Pennsylvania, and as a young man took up with the noted pacifist minister A. J. Muste and his Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR). For this group, he lectured on pacifism to church and community groups, and during the early 1940s his dual commitment to peace and civil rights flourished simultaneously and sympathetically: his refusal to serve during the war in a conscientious objector work camp led to a twenty-eight-month prison sentence, during which he played a leadership role in desegregating the prison. (13) The bomb itself, however, positioned Rustin at an ideological crossroads that he found himself negotiating and renegotiating for much of the rest of his professional life. While making the anti-atomic lecture circuit under the aegis of the America Friends Society, Rustin found his late-1940s pacifist work "more dispiriting than satisfying" according to Rustin's biographer John D'Emilio. Impatient with "preaching mostly to the choir" and with the measured response of old-guard pacifists to the prospect of universal conscription, Rustin and other radical conscientious objectors developed tactics of Gandhian nonviolence and direct action, and took these not to anti-bomb rallies but to segregated lunch counters and interstate bus lines, recently desegregated by a 1946 Supreme Court ruling. (14)

In 1948 Rustin delivered the annual William Penn Lecture to the Young Friends Movement in Philadelphia on the subject of the atomic threat, and in 1955 participated in a New York-based strike against the civil defense exercise known as Operation Alert. Deeply shaken by Truman's announcement of the hydrogen bomb program in January 1950, Rustin as head of FOR's College Section urged protest to his campus groups, asked Muste to organize a mass renunciation of citizenship by pacifists nationwide, and directed Caravans for Peace, a summer volunteer program that predated by more than a decade the civil rights-based Mississippi Summer Freedom Project. (15) During Easter Week of that year, he led a "Fast for Peace" that gained significant attention. (16) Many of Rustin's other engagements on behalf of banning the bomb, however, took him abroad--to India, Africa, the border of the Soviet Union, and often to England--and very shortly a dichotomy emerged between pacifist work conducted primarily on foreign soil and an at-home workload defined almost entirely by the dynamic and complex civil rights agenda. In 1958 Rustin gave a rousing speech to antinuclear protesters gathered in London for a fifty-mile march to the Aldermaston nuclear weapons facility. The enthusiastic response of British crowds inspired Rustin to push for a march back in the United States--but to further the cause of civil rights, not nuclear disarmament. As Lawrence S. Wittner observes, Rustin "was so struck by the [Aldermaston] event that it led him to propose and organize the 1963 March on Washington"--very likely his most significant historical achievement. (17) D'Emilio notes that "Rustin was especially taken with the ability of the British movement to mobilize large numbers for rallies and public marches." (18) Yet such impressive turnouts would only force Rustin to compare British anti-nuclearism both to the disappointingly meager reaction to the nuclear threat back home and to the always more urgent issue, for black and white Americans, of civil rights.

In the midst of a 1960 campaign co-sponsored by British, American, and African peace activists to head off French nuclear testing in the Algerian Sahara, Rustin received a letter from fellow civil rights activist Tom Kahn, who was "more than mildly contemptuous of [Rustin's] pacifist ventures": "Dear Bayard: What the hell are you doing in Africa at a time like this? Your colleagues here in the civil rights movement are categorically convinced you should return to New York by the 1st of January." (19) The consternation in Kahn's letter is significant: many of his civil rights compatriots saw no link between Rustin's dual vocations, and worried that attention given to one would inevitably steal focus from the other. As Kahn's letter makes clear, Rustin's forthcoming appointment as "Director of the March on Conventions Project" within King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference was designed to lure him away from anti-nuclearism and back towards civil rights. Yet while at various points leaders from both movements fought over access to Rustin's services, he was as often shunted from one camp to the other whenever his controversial past--including his war resistance but also his remote history of Communist Party affiliation and his lifelong identification as a gay man--called his ultimate usefulness into question.

As Kahn's "contempt" of pacifism implies, it was especially the civil rights leaders who cut ultra-masculine profiles (complete with copious womanizing, despite the clerical status attained by many) and periodically retreated from association with Rustin whenever they homophobically worried that he was not man enough to make it as a movement leader. This would have surely rankled the athletic, confident Rustin, who suffered mightily from each rebuff and from a decades-long inability to live down a morals charge he received in 1953 when found by Pasadena police in the backseat of a car with two other men. While "peace [a]s a foreign idea" (20) was a trumped-up charge in the case ofDu Bois and his Peace Information Center, for Rustin the distinction seemed more and more between a peace movement over-identified as white, "soft," and foreign, and a civil rights movement led by masculine black supermen pursuing a uniquely American dream.

Even during moments when national attention was turned toward atomic disarmament, "Rustin was not optimistic about the capacity of the movement to make a difference at home" Following the 1963 March the contrast between history-making civil rights actions and marginalized peace actions was sharper yet. To a British colleague during this time, "Rustin expressed much more enthusiasm about civil rights activity in the United States, where dramatic Freedom Rides that spring had become an international news story, than about anything related to the [international] peace walk" in which he took part. According to D'Emilio, Rustin deeply regretted each occasion upon which he found himself at a "distance from the center of the action" and more and more came to associate this disenfranchised marginality with the lackluster antinuclear movement. (21) Thus, civil rights may have been the more attractive cause not only because he saw it as inherently more important but also because rising to prominence in that context would have redeemed his impugned manhood and provided him an opportunity to do what he did best--organize meetings and mass events--on the broadest possible American canvas.

While he moved between service to the two causes during much of his career, representative writings from the 1940s and 1960s plainly indicate the transfer of allegiance that had taken place in Rustin's heart in this period. In the 1948 Penn lecture referred to above, Rustin spoke directly against the atom-bombings in Japan and the continuing atomic threat, as well as the related issues of pacifism and nonviolence, conscientious objection to war participation, and the culpability of nuclear scientists. As he spoke, he also drew from an array of nuclear metaphors, emphasizing the "spark of God in each of us," envisioning a cup overflowing "with energy, a great deal of which can be used to find creative solutions to our problems" and reading peace itself as a chain reaction ("making peace without fear and suspicion encourages peace)." (22)

By contrast, most of Rustin's writing from the 1960s addresses racial equality, political power, and the misguidedness of the Black Power movement. Even his essay "A Way Out of the Exploding Ghetto" (1967) draws its bomb metaphors from "Chicago gangsterism ... war-torn Berlin ... [and] the unstable politics of underdeveloped countries," not the nuclear register. (23) Rustin determines that Americans have "escaped the bombs of two world wars," where in an earlier era his emphasis would have surely fallen upon America's implication in these bombings, with the most prominent example being not Berlin but Hiroshima. When at the end of this essay Rustin resorts to the trope of the "powder-keg," this seems largely divested of atomic shadings. While Rustin's position on the bomb--he was radically opposed--was never in doubt, his career epitomizes the tension between two contrasting commitments to world betterment: the pitched battle between increasingly centralized questions of racial equality and evermore marginalized worries about nuclear catastrophe.


If finally it was impossible for Rustin to play leading roles in both antinuclear and civil rights contexts, no African American leader of the postwar period more persuasively demonstrated the power of language--to reach worldwide and advocate multiple causes simultaneously--than did Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. King's deeply held Christian faith encouraged his lifelong commitment to nonviolence in civil rights and international relations, and it is King's 1964 Nobel Prize acceptance speech whence comes the title of this article. Yet this same faith tradition led ironically to striking dilemmas in prominent sermons that slant his teachings, like Rustin's activism, toward civil rights protest, away from anti-nuclearism: despite the eloquent use to which King put the trope of "midnight" in his Nobel speech, we locate a rhetorical breakdown between his enthralling vision of a racially harmonious "tomorrow" and the always horrific prospect of the other side of nuclear midnight, which must be avoided at all costs.

As he did on many other rhetorical occasions, King constructed memorable parallel constructions to link for his vast and diverse audience what he regarded as the two most significant threats to his age. One time he noted that "it is very nice to drink milk at an unsegregated lunch counter--but not when there is strontium 90 in it." On another he averred that "it is worthless to talk about integrating if there is no world to integrate in." Elsewhere King confronted his audience with the life-and-death ultimatum not "between violence and nonviolence but nonviolence and nonexistence." (24) In his Nobel speech, King opposed "this pending cosmic elegy" to a "creative psalm of brotherhood" and vigorously rejected as inevitable "the starless midnight of racism and war" specifically "the hell of thermonuclear destruction." (25)

King's biographer David Levering Lewis reads his Nobel speech as the occasion that marked King's broadening view of social concerns, (26) when in fact most of the antinuclear writings to be examined here came from the period "during or after the bus protest in Montgomery," (27) that is 1955 or, we must assume, in the years immediately following. In an article published in 1959 for Liberation and reprinted in A Testament of Hope, King cited his long record of antinuclear activism, of "unequivocally declar[ing] my hatred for this most colossal of all evils ... condemn[ing] any organizer of war ... sign[ing] numerous statements ... and authoriz[ing] publication of my name in advertisements appearing in the largest-circulating newspapers in the country." (28) In fact, there is a remarkable lack of response to King's antinuclear writings in particular, and to his peace-protesting in the 1950s in general, by King scholars, who define his peace activism almost entirely in terms of Vietnam opposition. In this context, they emphasize the rift created between King and the Johnson administration, whose war this was, as well as between himself and civil rights leaders to his right, who cautioned him against foreign policy embroilments. (29)

While these historians do well to analyze the breakdown between peace and civil rights activism as crystallized in the example of King's opposition to Vietnam, it was perhaps his distance from the hails of Washington in the mid- to late 1950s, as well as the lesser fame of many of the sermons from that same period, that enabled King to speak so effectively against the twin evils of that decade. In addition, while Johnson was very much a civil rights advocate, whose distraction by the war in Vietnam greatly disappointed King and other black supporters, Kennedy, despite his weaker record on civil rights, did manage, as King himself noted, to "guide ... to reality the historic treaty banning atmospheric nuclear testing." (30) King's peace statements in a Kennedy context, while less trouble-causing than they were under Johnson, were nevertheless powerful statements whose import is yet to be fully analyzed.

Indeed, it was less often the political platform than the pulpit, where the speaker is predisposed to tackling questions of cosmic survival and salvation, that inspired King to incorporate the threat posed by the bomb into his vision of justice for the nation and the world. In his sermon "Transformed Nonconformist" he likened both peace and civil rights demonstrators to the beleaguered but courageous outsider that Christ himself was (Strength to Love, 1 1-12); in "How Should a Christian View Communism?" King critiqued communist atheism yet argued that the only way to rescue the godless and disaffected (be they the Soviet masses or marginalized members of US society) from misguided ideology was to provide the same equality and brotherhood promised by Marxist philosophy. At the end of this sermon, it is not "atomic bombs or nuclear weapons" leveling cities and social relations but justice and democracy fulfilling the prophecy "every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill shall be made low." In "On Being a Good Neighbor," King drew on the example of the Good Samaritan to stress the international brotherhood of humans, now bound by the bomb in one pact of mutually assured survival or "universal suicide." (31)

Tracing King's theological influences, Ira G. Zepp notes that George W. Davis, King's mentor at Crozer Theological Seminary, argued in similar fashion that "we know now that we must live together or perish. If we will not have one world, we may have no world." For both Davis and King, therefore, the bomb posed an immovable mandate to achieve the Christian goals of brotherhood and peace. It functioned as a dreaded alter-apocalypse--an ending to the world not ordained by God--and yet also quite effectively as an essential catalyst to better behaviors, as a powerful weapon in the rhetorical arsenal of liberal, peace-loving preachers like Davis and King. Zepp cites the realist/pragmatist writings of Reinhold Niebuhr as another enduring influence upon King, yet the two parted intellectual company specifically over the issue of the bomb: Niebuhr held out war as a preferred alternative to tyranny, as a "negative good" or period of "momentary anarchy" that must sometimes be weathered so as to increase goodness and fend off sin within the human community. But King "then came to the conviction that the destructive power of nuclear weapons was so unlimited that war had ceased being a negative good." (32) Taking up the specific example of nuclear war, King debunks war's "momentary" nature: "A world war--God forbid!--will leave only smouldering ashes as a mute testimony of a human race whose folly led inexorably to untimely death." (33) According to Michael G. Long, for King "the theological sin of total nuclear war is its opposition to the principle of the sacredness of the human personality, more particularly, the God-given (and sacred) right to life." (34)

As in the quote from his Nobel Prize speech above (and in the anti- apocalypticism inspired by Davis and Niebuhr), King often turned to the trope of "midnight" when preaching against the bomb. In "A Knock at Midnight," King's text is Luke 11:5-6, wherein Christ questions his followers, "which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight" to seek out sustenance for a surprise guest? The surprise guest, of course, is Christ himself, whom the devoted believer must make every effort to receive with an open house and open heart. While the righteous Christian joyfully anticipates this surprise arrival, the "knock at midnight" nevertheless imbues the visitation with a somber, even ominous quality and is akin to the pointing finger of Dickens's Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come and the tolling bell of John Donne's Devotions upon Emergent Occasions. Thus King begins this sermon with a warning, "It is midnight within the social order" and immediately defines this social midnight as brought on by "atomic and nuclear weapons that could within seconds completely destroy the major cities of the world" (Strength to Love, 42). King thus speaks literally of the midnight produced by the dousing of a thousand power grids at the point of nuclear impact as well as the sunless nuclear winter induced by the this same event. King's rhetoric of midnight also invokes another iconic symbol from the period--the atomic clock depicted on the cover of each issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists whose hands were positioned so many minutes before midnight, depending upon the severity of the current nuclear threat. While surely the Scientists set their clock in motion for the express purpose of never realizing the dreaded midnight hour, King's theological and social narrative is more complex; as an indeed-righteous Christian he draws upon the equally enthralling trope of the other side of midnight's getting-up day, and as a committed civil rights activist he looks as well for "the dawn" of racial equality that "arises from faith in God" (Strength to Love, 49).

Thus King's campaigns on behalf of world peace and racial equality part rhetorical company with the specific invocation of the social order's midnight hour. In many successive sermons, a better "tomorrow" is envisioned, but such an aftermath is only meaningfully sought after in a specifically civil rights context. The "dawn" of nuclear midnight is either the world of ashes King envisioned in an earlier sermon or the utopic survival fantasy of the United States rising Phoenix-like from these same ashes, to fly its tattered flag once more. King of course would countenance neither of these mornings-after within the range of his antinuclear sermonizing, yet the midnight-into-dawn narrative--in King's own words, Good Friday's giving way "to the triumphant music of Easter" (Strength to Love, 59)--forms Christianity's core tenet, and King drew from this narrative on a regular basis. In "The Death of Evil Upon the Seashore" King describes "a great cosmic ball of fire" as the setting of sun that gives way to "some dark and desolate midnight." Yet here the fireball is no terrifying harbinger of the end of time but is instead "beautiful," natural, and surely supplanted by its rejuvenating counterpart, a light in the east (Strength to Love, 65, 66), the next morning. On one occasion King envisions "survival" of nuclear war in the way the Christian believes he will "survive" his own death, not physically but spiritually reborn, not into this world but into eternity with God. In "Antidotes for Fear" King's text is 1 John 4:18, wherein "perfect love casteth out fear." For much of the sermon, King distinguishes abnormal phobias--for instance, of Russian communists or fellow Americans of different skin colors--from "normal, necessary, and creative" fears such as those that have lead to scientific and medical breakthroughs, and, we may assume, that have thus far kept world leaders from a nuclear doomsday. At the beginning and end of this address, however, King returns to the letter of his biblical passage, in which the believer is enjoined to face down death--even nuclear annihilation- with courage and confidence in God's saving grace. Thus, "witness our frenzied efforts to construct fallout shelters. As though even these offer sanctuary from an H-bomb attack!" (Strength to Love, 109). While King is right to question the effectiveness of such inadequate preparations, his challenge invites listeners to cease any effort, even legislative or diplomatic means, to fend off nuclear catastrophe. By sermon's end, the seemingly irresolvable conflict between physical survival and spiritual salvation looms large: "Let us face the fear that the atomic bomb has aroused with the faith that we can never travel beyond the arms of the Divine. Death is inevitable.

... We need not join the mad rush to purchase an earthly fallout shelter. God is our eternal fallout shelter." In the midst of this passage, King envisions a God who "can most assuredly lead us through death's dark night into the bright daybreak of eternal life" (Strength to Love, 116), taking his audience to the other side of nuclear midnight in a gesture that hews closely to theological doctrine but starkly departs from the messages of world peace and nuclear disarmament delivered by King on many other sermonic occasions.


Both King and Hansberry viewed the bomb through two lenses--as a literal threat to planetary survival (about which both spoke consistently and emphatically), and as a rich metaphor whose power might be successfully harnessed in the fight for justice and equality. For both, the dramatically and spiritually satisfying prospect of enduring love (whether divine or human) and the tenaciousness of the human spirit, even in the face of nuclear conflagration, appealed to two writers with abiding faith in the redeemability of humankind. Their optimism may have sprung from different sources--for King the promise of the Gospels, for Hansberry the heights of human artistic and intellectual achievement--but it caused both to hold simultaneously the contradictory opinions that surely human beings could be restrained from nuclear war and that surely humanity would prevail, even should such war come. Thus their writings on various occasions envisioned and even assented to nuclear Armageddon so as to demonstrate the power of the redemptive love they felt ultimately ruled the universe.

Contrary to the questions raised by her portrayal of Ruth in A Raisin in the Sun, the bomb figured meaningfully throughout the course of Hansberry's life. In interviews and essays Hansberry spoke forcefully against the atomic threat and wrote one of her last full-length dramatic works, What Use Are Flowers? (1961-62), in explicit opposition to both atomic weapons and the mood of nihilism they enabled. Eloquently summarizing her most impassioned commitments, including health care for all, racial equality, and maximally engaged artistic expression, Hansberry wrote for Mademoiselle in 1960 that "Naturally the first of all longing today is for peace.... Intelligence and love of life make debate obsolete; the alternative is a scorched and silent planet." (35) In To Be Young, Gifted, and Black (1969), a compilation of Hansberry excerpts from the dramatic stage and public platform, "L. H." tells an interviewer that her dream is to "live in a world where some of the more monumental problems could at least be solved; I'm thinking, of course, of peace. That is, we don't fight. Nobody fights. We get rid of all the little bombs--and the big bombs." (36) In a review of the Japanese film Hiroshima in 1955, Hansberry denounced highbrow critics who critiqued the film--and thus the bomb itself--on artistic terms. For Hansberry, applying aesthetic standards to such horrific historical circumstances was "insanely vulgar," and yet she herself regarded Hiroshima as both "one of the greatest propaganda films of our times" and a moving work of art. She wrote appreciatively of the artful lack of soundtrack that accompanied the moment of the bomb's impact onscreen, as well as the documentary footage of victims and survivors, no matter how difficult to watch, and of peace-marchers making a commemorative pilgrimage to the city each year. In Hansberry's elegant summation, "Coming out of the movie house into the American streets, one repeats [the marchers' chant] with feeling. 'No more Hiroshimad--anywhere, ever." (37)

Hansberry's recurring affirmations of "life" and "future generations" in her writings and especially in her addresses to aspiring youth and black audiences resonate meaningfully and poignantly with the facts of her tragically shortened life (she died of duodenal cancer at the age of thirty-four) and the atomic threat that loomed however silently over all of life in postwar America. (38) In her landmark presentation to a group of young black artists in 1959, "The Negro Writer and His Roots" Hansberry sets up a contest between "life" and "despair," the mood adopted by many modern writers in response to the world wars, the bomb, and the existential condition. Hansberry exhorts her young listeners to engage passionately with "the most pressing issues of our time," including anti-capitalism, pan-Africanism, and civil rights, and to emphatically choose the affirmative in "the realm of discussion which haunts the days of humankind everywhere: the destruction or survival of the human race." For Hansberry despair gives way to both cynicism and complacency, either of which can lead one to conclude that the bomb and its resultant lesser conflicts will be always with us. On its own, complacency enables myriad other false assumptions, regarding racial, gender, and political inequalities that strike privileged members of society as natural and unchanging. Said assumptions feed the most dangerous misconception of all, that "art ... at its best, CANNOT possibly be 'social.'" In this same essay, Hansberry's impassioned "wish to live" and for "others to live for generations and generations and generations and generations" vectors out both to her specific audience of young black artists who will do best by their race to flourish across the decades and to a larger audience of ordinary African Americans, Africans and other oppressed peoples worldwide, and all who cower in the shadow of the bomb. (39)

In an article for the Village Voice, "Willie Loman, Walter Younger, and He Who Must Live," Hansberry attaches her commitment to survival to decisions made in bringing her most famous dramatic creation to life--and in refusing to kill him off by the end of the play. In purposeful contrast to the doomed figure of Willy Loman, Walter Younger's "typicality is capable of a choice which affirms life." Walter's designation as dramatic though not tragic stems from his rich racial heritage, from his ability to "draw on the strength of an incredible people who, historically, have simply refused to give up." Too, this shift implicitly underscores the playwright's hope for planetary survival: when Hansberry reads Walter as "King Oedipus refusing to tear out his eyes," she indulges in a clock-reversing fantasy of literary and political omnipotence, set against the inexorable countdown to nuclear midnight, so oppressively discerned at that moment. (40) Even the implied detail of King Oedipus stopping his hands from tragic self-injury resonates with the hope of stopping and reversing the hands of the doomsday clock, which the Bulletin's editors themselves did, every time diplomacy and goodwill managed a successful counterthrust to hawkish rhetoric and international brinksmanship. As opposed to King, whose Christian orientation encouraged the narrative of midnight-into-dawn, here Hansberry seems cognizant of the threat to planetary survival inherent in that chain of events and instead attaches the concept of life-affirmation to the successful stopping of time--or stopping in time, before disaster strikes.

In a letter to a personal friend published in 1964 as "On Arthur Miller, Marilyn Monroe, and 'Guilt,"' Hansberry complained bitterly about a comment by Miller in Life magazine, regarding "the destructiveness hanging over our age" on the occasion of the debut of his After the Fall. (41) On the whole, Miller's piece has little to do with the cynicism or apocalypticism evinced by this phrase, but Hansberry is quick to light upon it, so in tune was she to the ways in which various contemporary playwrights chose subjects like madness and death over more vital, uplifting themes. Time and again Hansberry criticized the "fashionable despair" on display in the writings of Miller, Norman Mailer, Jean Genet, and Samuel Beckett, whose relentlessly bleak Waiting for Godot she explicitly targets in her post-atomic "fantasy" written in the absurdist tradition, What Use Are Flowers? (42) For Hansberry, unmitigated tragedy, nihilism, and cynicism belonged to the existential pose of white male intellectuals who enjoyed the galling luxury of having nothing else to complain about besides the supposed meaninglessness of life. In Flowers and on many other occasions, Hansberry countered such attitudes with her life-affirming vision, replacing "despair with hope, death with life, destruction with rejuvenation." (43) She conceded the role of the absurd in the dramatist's approach to presenting the human condition in the post-atomic era, yet warned that "attention must be paid in equal measure to the frequent triumph of man, if not nature, over the absurd." (44) While many times Hansberry herself cried out against the enormity of both racial injustice and the nuclear crisis, she never wanted either to become so overwhelming a subject that the artist abdicated his or her "responsibility" to speak out. (45)

As Steven R. Carter observes, "elements of the absurd abound in What Use Are Flowers? but they are matched throughout with examples of humanity's striving for mastery over nature and life itself." (46) In the story a band of naked, savage, nonverbal children are happened upon by an aged hermit-humanist who fled the incivilities of humankind decades earlier and reappears as the play opens, five years after a world-annihilating nuclear bomb. As in Beckett, the setting is spare and the characters clownish in their ragtag, unkempt appearance. Yet throughout the story the old man attempts to civilize the children by instilling in them knowledge of language and basic physical principles, along with love for higher things, including music and "flowers," which have no practical use but once made human life precious and profound. The hermit dies with much left untaught, and a demoralizing return to anarchy immediately follows when one of the childen breaks the newly invented wheel of another in a jealous rage. Nevertheless, the play ends pointedly on a note of hope, with all of the children, both the wronged and the contrite, reconstructing the vital wheel.

While many of Hansberry's direct pronouncements on world affairs position her emphatically in the anti-bomb camp, the view presented in What Use are Flowers? is more complex. Here Hansberry's faith in life is so predominant that even following atomic cataclysm, life must, and will, go on. Such "fantasies" (to borrow and recast her own term) of nuclear survivability were ironically the ordinary province of cold war hawks, who both downplayed the magnitude of nuclear war and reassured readers that things eventually would rebound. For example, in Pat Frank's popular novel Alas, Babylon (published in 1959, the same year that Raisin hit the stage), a group of intrepid survivors builds a rural Florida paradise following worldwide nuclear destruction. So life-sustaining is the arrangement by the novel's end that they actually turn down an offer by a rescuing helicopter pilot of removal to a survivors' colony outside the heavily contaminated United States. Numerous social scientists of the era published doomsday forecasts that included their own happy endings. In On Thermonuclear War (1960) Herman Kahn calmly discussed ways to win a nuclear wars As worthy as were both Hansberry's many statements on peace and life-preservation and her critique of pretentious intellectual elitism, it is the case that a more uniformly pessimistic treatment of the post-atomic predicament, of the kind issued by Beckett in Godot and especially in his deeply disturbing, nuclear-themed Endgame, may elicit from its audience the stronger pacifist response.

Assessing the overall merits of Flowers, Anne Cheney notes that "Hansberry's war is a vague, offstage 'atomic holocaust,"' while Charles A. Carpenter refers to the play itself as a "modest, sentimentally generalized plea to avoid letting nuclear confrontation occur." (48) Yet Carter points out that the play's sentimentalism attaches most often to the figure of the Hermit, whose high-flown rhetoric should be read as a feature of his overemotional personality, not necessarily a component of Hansberry's own "sound, philosophically based affirmation." (49) Indeed, Hansberry recognized that images of unrelenting despair could as easily spur an audience into preventative action as they could cripple it with paralyzing nihilism. As Cheney phrases it, Hansberry's "vision [was] that, if man abandons hope, he will surely destroy himself and his world," and as Hansberry herself told a group of young black writers in one of her most important speeches, "write about the world as it is and as you think it ought to and must be--if there is to be a world? (50) As opposed to the Edenic ending of Frank's Alas, Babylon--which in fact conveniently absents all of the African American characters who have proven essential to white survival thus far (51)--Hansberry provides an appropriately slim measure of hope commensurate with the story's heavy themes: not only are the youngsters hanging on to civilization by a sliver at play's end but the cast is specifically drawn to include only one female survivor-a demographic factor that again suitably limits an optimist's search for a happy ending. Yet while Hansberry is careful to dictate the cast's gender assignments, her silence on the question of each character's racial background works effectively against heavy-handed attempts such as Frank's to reinstate master-servant relationships in the post-nuclear landscape and to segregate the fates of survivors in final scenes of escape and renewal. Hansberry's implicit suggestion is that in circumstances as dire as these, race will not matter in the least, and surely a multiracial cast would enhance a powerful staging of this production.


By the late 1960s, Hansberry (and her pacifist mentor Du Bois) had passed on, black separatism challenged the integrationism of Martin Luther King, and the bomb, when considered at all, was less a fearful specter than a corrosive sign of the declining white Western empire, according to thinkers as diverse as John Oliver Killens and Elijah Muhammad. (52) Indeed, the three postwar African American intellectuals discussed here, who chose, in the words of Hansberry's character Sydney Brustein, to "care about it all,' found their race loyalty questioned by the more militant figures who came to predominate as the civil rights movement reached its full maturity. Rustin's antinuclear efforts were read as a waste of time by both white and black members of his civil rights cohort, while King's commitment to nonviolence was eventually superseded by the militant philosophies of movement leaders from the urban North. Hansberry's focus on the bomb, which for some, including her own recent biographer, is "an essentially white intellectual issue," (53) may have encouraged black separatists like Malcolm X and Harold Cruse to denounce Hansberry's "left-wing, cosmopolitan, and interracial frameworks." (54) Cruse called Raisin "a glorified soap opera" and, perhaps with respect to everything from the Youngers' subscription to the Tribune to their implicit "white flight" to the safe haven of the suburbs, he critiqued Hansberry's "essentially quasi-white orientation through which she visualized the Negro world." (55)

At their most vigorously antinuclear, these thinkers stood upon the threshold between the interracialism (including integrated antinuclear activism) sought after in 1940s and 1950s and the race-separatism that in many ways defined the later decades of the American twentieth century. Their detractors look back from the other side of this threshold and call into question a way of seeing things that was assuredly broader but, according to these critics, far less effective than would be the single-issue focus they advocated. They also speak from a point in time at which the Vietnam War not only challenged the notion of interracial harmony as a "simple" domestic issue but also derailed, and to a large extent defused, the antinuclear focus of earlier pacifist movements, both black and white. (56) On a parallel track, the undelivered-upon promises of the March on Washington of 1963, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 created their own agenda of urgent problems that distracted African American peace activists from nuclear disarmament and sometimes even from a commitment to nonviolence. If finally atomic disarmament and civil rights traded the places of center and margin in the collective American consciousness during this period, the stock of the former crashing as the latter soared, the multivalent contributions of Rustin, King, and Hansberry nevertheless represent those key transitional years of the late 1950s and early 1960s, when both African American and white antinuclear activists dealt in remarkable ways with the equally vital--sometimes complementary, sometimes competitive- issue of racial equality.

University of North Texas


(1) Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun: A Drama in Three Acts (New York: Samuel French, 1959), 1.1.6.

(2) See for instance, Kristen L. Matthews, "The Politics of 'Home' in Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun," Modern Drama 51 (2008): 556.

(3) Lorraine Hansberry, To Be Young, Gifted, and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words, ed. Robert Nemiroff (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1970), 253-54.

(4) Hansberry, A Raisin, 2.1.73.

(5) See for instance, Michelle Gordon, "Somewhat Like War': The Aesthetics of Segregation, Black Liberation, and A Raisin in the Sun," African American Review 42 (2008): 129.

(6) "17 Atomic Bombs Would Completely Destroy Boro," New York Amsterdam News (25 August 1945): 1. More broadly, see Barbara Deming, Revolution and Equilibrium (New York: Grossman, 1971), 113.

(7) Gordon, "Somewhat Like War" 127.

(8) See also Scott Saul, Freedom Is, Freedom Ain't: Jazz and the Making of the Sixties (Harvard U. Press, 2003), 69-70.

(9) Thomas C. Fleming, "Weekly Report;' San Francisco Sun-Reporter (25 February 1961 ): 6. See also Deming, Revolution and Equilibrium, 115, who narrates an encounter with racist whites as an integrated peace walk sponsored by the Committee for Nonviolent Action made its way through the South in early 1962: "It is my own conviction that these men listened to us as they did, on the subject of peace, just because Robert Gore [the group's lone African American participant] was traveling with us. ... It snatched [the nuclear issue] from the realm of the merely abstract" While the situation is readable as tokenism at its most exploitative, Deming nevertheless implicitly acknowledges how peace activists depended in this instance upon the literal prospect of racial integration to "bring home" to complacent Americans the revolutionary nature of a world freed from the nuclear threat.

(10) Historians have argued that US policymakers pressured civil rights leaders to stay narrowly focused on civil rights and leave foreign relations to white national leaders. See Penny M. Von Eschen, Race Against Empire: Black Americans and Anticolonialism, 1937-1957 (Cornell U. Press, 1997); Kevin Gaines "From Black Power to Civil Rights: Julian Mayfield and African American Expatriates in Nkrumah's Ghana, 1957-1966," Cold War Constructions: The Political Culture of United States Imperialism, 1945-1966, ed. Christian G. Appy (Amherst: U. of Massachusetts Press, 2000), 259-60; Simon Hall, Peace and Freedom: The Civil Rights and Antiwar Movements in the 1960s (U. of Pennsylvania Press, 2005), 40-41 and throughout; and Robbie Lieberman, "Another Side of the Story': African American Intellectuals Speak Out for Peace and Freedom during the Early Cold War Years," Anticommunism and the African American Freedom Movement: "Another Side of the Story," ed. Robbie Lieberman and Clarence Lang (New York: Palgrave, 2009), 21. As the civil rights movement became more powerful and as the focus shifted from antinuclear to Vietnam War opposition, the pressure from above, specifically from Lyndon Johnson and his top advisors, became that much more acute.

(11) Marian Mollin, Radical Pacifism in Modern America: Egalitarianism and Protest (U. of Pennsylvania Press, 2006), 134, 137-38.

(12) African American intellectuals of the highest echelon, W. E. B. Du Bois and Paul Robeson most prominent among them, promulgated the causes of atomic disarmament and civil rights with equal vigor yet met with resistance from one or both constituencies who questioned the divided allegiances on display in their actions and writings. The pronounced leftism of both Du Bois and Robeson made them lightning rod figures during the cold war. Du Bois and fellow-members of his Peace Information Center were declared by the Justice Department to be agents of a foreign government and indicted--Du Bois was eighty-three at this time--for refusing to register as such. The charges against Du Bois were soon dropped, but "for the rest of his life;' observes Manning Marable, Black Leadership (Columbia U. Press, 1998), 122, "Du Bois would be treated as a convicted felon in his native land." Robeson was targeted by the House Un-American Activities Committee, denied passport privileges throughout the 1950s, and vilified by many within the civil rights movement for both his communist tendencies and his wavering focus on the issue of domestic civil rights.

(13) See also Bayard Rustin, "Twenty-Two Days on a Chain Gang," Down the Line: The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin, ed. C. Vann Woodward (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1971).

(14) John D'Emilio, Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin (New York: Free Press, 2003), 126, 133-40. See also James J. Farrell, The Spirit of the Sixties: Making Postwar Radicalism (New York: Routledge, 1997), 91-92; Bayard Rustin, "We Challenged Jim Crow," Down the Line: The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin, ed. C. Vann Woodward (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1971); and Bennett Singer and Nancy D. Kates, dirs., Brother Outsider (Calitbrnia Newsreel, 2003).

(15) Describing his proposal to Muste as purposely "rash," Rustin suggested something dramatic, if not citizenship renunciation then lying down in front of the gates at Los Alamos and going to jail, to impress a complacent citizenry with the urgency of the problem ("Hydrogen Bomb Protest"). Rustin copied more than twenty people on the memo, several of whom wrote back to decline participation in his various schemes, especially one involving giving up citizenship. Documentation of Rustin's opposition to the hydrogen bomb is at the Swarthmore College Peace Collection, Coll. No. 013, Box D52, Folders: "Bayard Rustin Files, College Section" "FOR Program Staff/Bayard Rustin--College Section" and "Hydrogen Bomb Protest."

(16) Mollin, Radical Pacifism, 62.

(17) Lawrence S. Wittner, Resisting the Bomb: A History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement, 1954-1970, vol. 2, The Struggle Against the Bomb (Stanford U. Press, 1997), 49.

(18) D'Emilio, Lost Prophet, 314.

(19) D'Emilio, Lost Prophet, 284, and see also 278; the quote from Kahn appears in Singer and Kates, Brother Outsider.

(20) W.E.B. Du Bois, In Battle for Peace: The Story of My 83rd Birthday (New York: Masses and Mainstream, 1952), 56.

(21) D'Emilio, Lost Prophet, 322, 312, 324.

(22) Bayard Rustin, "In Apprehension How Like a God: William Penn Lecture 1948" (Philadelphia: Young Friends Movement, 1948), 3, 4, 5.

(23) Bayard Rustin, "A Way Out of the Exploding Ghetto;' Down the Line: The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin, ed. C. Vann Woodward (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1971), 178.

(24) Quoted in Harvard Sitkoff, The Struggle for Black Equality, 1954-1992 (New York: Hill & Wang, 1993), 205; also see Farrell, Spirit of the Sixties, 95. Quoted in David Levering Lewis, King: A Critical Biography (New York: Praeger, 1970), 302. Quoted in Ira G. Zepp, The Social Vision of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Brooklyn, NY: Carlson, 1989), 20.

(25) Martin Luther King, Jr., "Acceptance Speech:' 1964. king-acceptance.html.

(26) Lewis, King, 260.

(27) Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love (New York: Harper & Row, 1963), 11. Subsequent references to this work appear parenthetically in the text.

(28) Martin Luther King, Jr., Testament of Hope (1986; rpr. New York: HarperCollins, 1991), 34.

(29) See for example, Henry E. Darby and Margaret N. Rowley, "King on Vietnam and Beyond," Phylon 47 (1986): 43-50; Michael Eric Dyson, I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr. (New York: Free Press, 2000), chap. 3; Hall, Peace and Freedom, chap. 3; Michael G. Long Against Us, but For Us: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the State (Macon, GA: Mercer U. Press, 2002), 197-205 and throughout; Gerald D. McKnight, The Last Crusade: Martin Luther King, Jr., the FBI, and the Poor People's Campaign (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1998), chap. 1; and Lawrence S. Wittner, Rebels Against War: The American Peace Movement, 1933-1983 (Philadelphia: Temple U. Press, 1984), 285.

(30) Quoted in Long, Against Us, but For Us, 149.

(31) King, Strength to Love, 11-12, 100, 23; see also Martin Luther King, Jr., Trumpet of Conscience (New York: Harper & Row, 1967), 33.

(32) Quoted in Zepp, Social Vision, 120, 59, and see 166.

(33) King, Strength to Love, 29; King, Trumpet of Conscience, 67-68.

(34) Long, Against Us, but For Us, 96.

(35) Lorraine Hansberry, "Quo Vadis?" Mademoiselle (January 1960): 34. Lorraine Hansberry Papers. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books Division. Box 58, Folder: "Quo Vadis?"

(36) See note 3 above. While there is no date attached to this quotation, surrounding material is dated 1964, indicating that "little bombs" may refer to the conventional bombings of Vietnam and/or the terror campaign of church bombings undertaken by white supremacists in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. Thus Hansberry aligns the fight against nuclear arms with that against race hatred in both Vietnam and the American South.

(37) Lorraine Hansberry, "No More Hiroshimas," Freedom (May-June 1955): 7.

(38) See also Steven R. Carter, Hansberry's Drama: Commitment Amid Complexity (Urbana: U. of Illinois Press, 1991), 3.

(39) Lorraine Hansberry, "The Negro Writer and His Roots;' The Black Scholar 12 (1981): 3, 4,11.

(40) Lorraine Hansberry, "Willy Loman, Walter Younger, and He Who Must Live" Village Voice (12 August 1959): 8. Lorraine Hansberry Papers. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books Division. Box 59, Folder: "Walter Lee Younger, Willie Loman, and He Who Must Live." Hansberry, "Willy Loman" 8.

(41) Arthur Miller, "With Respect for Her Agony--but with Love;' Life (7 February 1964): 66.

(42) Lorraine Hansberry, "On Arthur Miller, Marilyn Monroe, and 'Guilt" Women in Theater: Compassion and Hope, ed. Karen Malpede (New York: Drama Book, 1983), 174. Lorraine Hansberry, What Use Are Flowers? in Collected Last Plays, ed. Robert Nemiroff (New York: Vintage, 1994).

(43) Anne Cheney, Lorraine Hansberry (Indianapolis: Indiana U. Press, 1984), 124.

(44) Hansberry, To Be Young, 176. See also Lorraine Hansberry, "A Challenge to Artists," Freedomways (Winter 1963): 32.

(45) Lorraine Hansberry, "An Author's Reflections: Willy Loman, Walter Younger, and He Who Must Live," Village Voice (12 August 1959): 7-8.

(46) Carter, Hansberry's Drama, 143.

(47) Pat Frank, Alas, Babylon (New York: Lippincott, 1959); Herman Kahn, On Thermonuclear War (Princeton U. Press, 1960).

(48) Cheney, Lorraine Hansberry, 129; Charles A. Carpenter, Dramatists and the Bomb: American and British Playwrights Confront the Nuclear Age, 1945-1964 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999), 89.

(49) Carter, Hansberry's Drama, 188.

(50) Cheney, Lorraine Hansberry, 129; Lorraine Hansberry, "The Nation Needs Your Gifts," Negro Digest (August 1964): 29.

(51) See my reading of this novel in Jacqueline Foertsch, "Extraordinarily Convenient Neighbors': African American Characters in White-Authored Post-Atomic Novels," Journal of Modern Literature 30 (2007): 122-38.

(52) Both Killens and Muhammad saw the bomb as indicative of the decline of the West and urged African Americans to separate from this dying culture, so as to ensure immunity. John Oliver Killens, Black Man's Burden (New York: Pocket Books, 1969), 152-53, writes: "the Western world [is] dying, though grandiosely, amid pretty slogans of Free Worlds and NATO's, A&P's and SEATO's, New Frontiers and Warsaw Pacts, and H-bombs and earth satellites. The Old World of the West [is] dying over the length and breadth of this death-driven earth." Elijah Muhammad, The Fall of America (Chicago: Muhammad's Temple of Islam No. 2, 1973), 233, condemned "deadly material manufactured to make war" (readable as a reference to the plutonium required to make nuclear bombs), and argued that America "deceives Black slaves right at the point of total destruction."

(53) Cheney, LorraineHansberry, preface.

(54) Judith E. Smith, Visions of Belonging: Family Stories, Popular Culture, and Postwar Democracy, 1940-1960 (Columbia U. Press, 2004), 326.

(55) Harold Cruse, The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual (New York: William Morrow, 1967), 283; quoted in Smith, Visions of Belonging, 326.

(56) See Paul Boyer, Fallout: A Historian Reflects on America's Half-Century Encounter with Nuclear Weapons (Columbus: Ohio State U. Press, 1998), 120-28. See also Amy Swerdlow, Women Strike for Peace: Traditional Motherhood and Radical Politics in the 1960s (U. of Chicago Press, 1993), 125.
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Author:Foertsch, Jacqueline
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Date:Sep 22, 2009
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