Hansberry also wrote Les Blancs and The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, which was called a “rediscovered classic” by the Chicago Tribune in 2016. She worked at Paul Robeson’s and W.E.B. DuBois Freedom newspaper as a subscription clerk, receptionist, typist, editorial assistant and ultimately associate editor. She was credited, alongside Alice Childress, Eslanda Goode Robeson, Dorothy Burnham, Thelma Dale and Shirley Graham DuBois, with bringing a proto-feminist viewpoint to the publication.
Lorraine’s strength of character and verbal presence was legendary in Civil Rights circles. The Baldwin-Kennedy Meeting of 1963 had among its delegation; Harry Belafonte, Lena Horne, James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry and the Freedom Rider Jerome Smith. During the meeting Smith recounted watching officers of justice do nothing as the Freedom Riders were attacked in 1961. Kennedy turned away from him, prompting Lorraine to speak up.
“You’ve got a great many very, very accomplished people in this room, Mr. Attorney General. But the only man who should be listened to is that man over there.”
“Look, if you can’t understand what this young man is saying, then we are without any hope at all because you and your brother are representatives of the best that a White America can offer; and if you are insensitive to this, then there’s no alternative except our going in the streets … and chaos.”
When Kennedy continued to dismiss Smith, it was Lorraine Hansberry who led the walk out. Afterwards, Belafonte reportedly told Martin Luther King that the meeting had been a “disaster”, but less than a month later John F. Kennedy gave his landmark Civil Rights Address. It was said that Robert Kennedy was the only White House advisor to actively encourage him.
Lorraine Hansberry died of pancreatic cancer at the young age of 34 but accomplished far more than most of us will ever do in a longer lifetime.