Lorraine Hansberry was born on May 19, 1930 in Chicago, Illinois, the youngest of four children. The Hansberrys were a middle class family with a very active social life. W.E.B. DuBois, Paul Robeson, Duke Ellington and Jesse Owens were some of the celebrity visitors to their home. However, being middle class in the North didn’t shield them from racism.
In 1938, the Hansberrys moved to an all-white Chicago suburb and were harassed by their neighbors. Lorraine was almost hit in the head by a brick thrown through the house window. A court soon ordered the family to move out of their home. With the help of the NAACP, Lorraine’s parents fought back all the way to the Supreme Court. Their case helped outlaw housing discrimination.
Lorraine Hansberry is best known for being the first Black female playwright to have a play produced on Broadway. It was originally called, The Crystal Stair. Most people don’t know that title because she renamed it A Raisin in the Sun. The new title was from a line in Langston Hughes’s poem, “A Dream Deferred.” In some ways the play was like an expansion of the famous poem.
One of the main character’s in the Younger family had a temper which exploded frequently. Sometimes the Younger family’s dreams seem to shrivel like a raisin. Even at the end of the play we don’t know if the Youngers get to live their dream, when they move from a small apartment to a spacious house, or if they end up chased out like the Hansberrys.
Lorraine Hansberry’s life was cut short in 1965 by pancreatic cancer. Still, her influence lives on as people continue to reenact A Raisin in the Sun.
Malachi McRoy is a student at Spencerville Adventist Academy in Spencerville, Maryland.
This article is part of our 2021 September / October Issue