Storytellers: Lorraine Hansberry


Today's storyteller was a playwright and activist. Who stories centered. African american working class families despite tragically short career. She became the first black woman to have a play produced on broadway half a century later her work remains one of the most celebrated snapshots of black struggles and black joy. Here's the story of lorraine hands berry lorraine hands berry was born on may nineteenth nineteen thirty on the south side of chicago. Her father carl. Augustus was a prominent figure. Within the city's black community having founded one of the first african american banks growing up lorraine and her three older siblings played host to a number of famous people including langston hughes. Wabc boys duke ellington and olympic gold. Medalist jesse owens. Despite their middle class status and cultural connections the hands berries were still subject to chicago's deeply ingrained. Housing segregation agreements known as restrictive covenants were widespread throughout the city. White property owners could collectively agree not to sell to african americans. This practice created a ghetto known as the black belt which ran through the south side when lorraine was eight years old. Her father secretly bought a home. In one of the so-called restricted heads in nineteen thirty seven when the family moved in a white mob attacked a brick was thrown through the window narrowly missing lorraine the local homeowners association filed an injunction for the hands berries to vacate lorraine her siblings were chased spat and beaten during their walks to and from school the supreme court of illinois doubled down on the legality of the restrictive covenant. And the hands. Berries were forced out of their home eventually the. Us supreme court overruled this ruling on a technicality. Thirty blocks subsequently opened up to black families across the south side while this ruling and the hands fight did not outlaw restrictive covenants. It did signal. The beginning of the end for the practice lorraine attended. Chicago's englewood high school where she became interested in theatre. She initially attended the university of wisconsin. Where she cut her teeth with the communist party but left after two years in one thousand nine hundred fifty lorraine moved to new york to be a writer by nineteen fifty one lorraine had found a home in harlem and began socializing with many of the great thinkers who had once visited her family back in chicago. She started writing for paul robeson freedom a progressive newspaper at a protest against racial discrimination at new york university lorraine met robert number off a jewish writer. They married at her family home in chicago. In nineteen fifty three in nineteen. Six robert co wrote the hit song. Cindy oh cindy it's prophets allowed lorraine to stop working to focus on writing. She began developing a play that she initially called. The crystal stair langston hughes poem mother to son she would later changed the name to a raisin in the sun. This too was from a langston hughes poem called harlem. What happens to a dream deferred. Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun or faster like a sore and then run a raisin in the sun centers on a black working class family in chicago south side as they try to improve their financial situation. The patriarch of the family has died and a ten thousand dollar insurance payout is imminent they the money to buy a house in the cheaper all white neighborhood nearby to they use it to invest in a liquor store and education lorraine based many of the characters on the families who rented from her father and with whom she attended high school the cast safer one character was entirely black lorraine was in her twenties and the play itself dealt with racism life in chicago's black belt and the pain of assimilation into white culture topics that were considered risky for the predominantly white theater. Going crowd it took over a year to raise enough money to put the play up. When it debuted in nineteen fifty-nine a raisin in the sun was the first play written by a black woman to be produced on broadway and the first to be led by an african american director lorraine was twenty nine years old. The play was an almost instant. Hit the new york drama critics circle named it. The best play of the year just five months after its broadway debut arisen in the son of in london's west end in nineteen sixty one. A film starring much of the original cast was released and several of the actors received golden globe. Nominations perhaps the most important element of the play success was that entailing box stories. Lorraine also make theater accessible and previously unimaginable ways as the writer. James baldwin noted. I had never in my life seen so many black people in the theater and the reason was that never before in the entire history of the american theatre had so much of the truth of black people's lives and seen on the stage. Black people had ignored the theatre because the theatre had always ignored them lorraine would go on to finish in stage. Just one other. Play the sign in sidney bruce. Deans window about a jewish intellectual the play which explored themes of homosexuality and the bohemian lifestyle. Debuted to mixed reviews in nineteen sixty four. It ran for just over one hundred performances closing on january twelfth. Nineteen sixty five. That's same day. Lorraine hanbury died of pancreatic cancer. She was thirty four years old. After lorraine's death. Her ex husband robert had several of her plays produced posthumously to be young gifted and black became an autobiographical work. Drawing on lorraine's letters interviews and journal entries the title came from a nineteen sixty four speech of lorraine's when she spoke to the winners of a united negro fund writing competition. She said speech though. It be thrilling marvellous thing to be merely young and gifted in such times it is doubly so w dynamic to be young gifted and black

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