About Lorraine

Lorraine Hansberry was a playwright, journalist and activist.  Her play A Raisin in the Sun was the first play by a Black woman produced on Broadway and has been revived on Broadway in 2004 and 2014. Generations of Black theater, television and film artists were inspired by and cut their artistic teeth on her masterpiece. 

James Baldwin wrote in his essay Sweet Lorraine,

“Much has been written about this play; I personally feel that it will demand a far less guilty and constricted people than present-day Americans to be able to assess it at all; as an historical achievement, anyway, no one can gainsay its importance. What is relevant here is that I had never in my life seen so many black people in the theater.  And the reason was that never in the history of the American theater had so much of the truth of black people’s lives been seen on the stage. Black people ignored the theater because the theater ignored them.”

“Not only would she distinguish herself among artists of her generation, she would also think her way into the vanguard of issues that would come to the fore of American and global thought in the years after her death; feminism, post colonialism, LGBTQ rights and lives, Black nationalism and liberation. She was before her time, and fair to say she died before her time.”

Imani Perry

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.