20 February 2018

Lorraine Hansberry: A Voice for African Americans and Women

Intro Copy

As Black History Month closes and segues into Women's History Month, it seems fitting that Lorraine Hansberry, an African American playwright, should bridge that transition. Hansberry's work not only embodied and reflected the struggle of African Americans in the age of segregation during the 1950s and 1960s, it also voiced her concern for women's rights. In an interview with Studs Terkel in 1959 Hansberry told him "the most oppressed group of any oppressed group will be its women, and that those who are "twice oppressed" may become "twice militant." Hansberry grew up in a civil rights family in South Side Chicago. Her father, Carl Augustus Hansberry, was a successful real estate broker and civil rights activist. In 1938, when Lorraine was around eight, her father bought a house on the edge of the white, upper middle class neighborhood of Washington Park in South Side Chicago. They immediately felt the violent brutality of racism and racial segregation from white residents of that neighborhood. The violence became so unbearable at one point, Lorraine's mother patrolled the house with a loaded German Ruger pistol. Residents then tried to force out the Hansberrys legally, and the case eventually wound up in the U.S. Supreme Court. Miss Hansberry's most famous play, "A Raisin in the Sun," which took its title from the Langston Hughes poem "Harlem," reflects her experience during that time. First debuting in New Haven, Connecticut, it became the first play by an African American woman to open on Broadway. For that work, she also became the first African American and fifth woman to win the highly acclaimed New York Drama Critics' Circle award. The Hollywood film version of the play soon followed and starred the same acting ensemble that opened the play on Broadway, with such notable actors as Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Claudia McNeil, and Louis Gossett, Jr. For the literary and theatre world, Lorraine Hansberry's life and work was cut way too short. In 1965, at the age of 34, she succumbed to pancreatic cancer, but not before 'A Raisin in the Sun' had made a huge cultural and social impact. The play has since been reproduced in many countries including Sweden and Russia, and at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, England, as well as countless revivals on the American stage, most notably the recent 2008 movie revival starring Sean Combs, Audra McDonald, and Phylicia Rashad. Students can explore further in eLibrary's new vibrant website and platform to find out more about Lorraine Hansberry, her work, and her fight for civil rights for African Americans and women. Here are some other resources on Lorraine Hansberry to help get you started: Lorraine Hansberry's Reflective 'Window' Washington Post (Newspaper) Lorraine Hansberry's Les Blancs and the American Civil Rights Movement African American Review (Scholarly Journal) New PBS Film Tells Hansberry's Story Chicago Tribune (Newspaper)

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