This note accompanies the follow episode(s):
The Writer’s Almanac for May 19, 2017: Ode to the Joyful Ones

May 19, 2017: birthday: Lorraine Hansberry

It’s the birthday of playwright Lorraine Hansberry (books by this author), born in Chicago (1930), the youngest of four children. Her father was a prominent real estate broker, and active in the fight against segregation. When Hansberry was eight, her parents bought a house in a white neighborhood. The house came with a restrictive covenant, which stipulated that it couldn’t be sold to a black person, so Hansberry’s father arranged for a white co-worker to buy it for him. Once the family moved in, they were subjected to violent harassment from many of their white neighbors. Her father filed discrimination charges and the case went all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court, which declared restrictive covenants unconstitutional.

Hansberry decided to become a writer after she saw a performance of Sean O’Casey’s play Juno and the Paycock in college. She moved to New York, took some writing classes, and went to work for Paul Robeson’s magazine Freedom. She wrote her first play, A Raisin in the Sun, in 1957. It was inspired by her family’s experience with racism in that white neighborhood in Chicago. The play opened on Broadway in 1959, and it was a big success, going on to play for more than 500 performances over two years. It was the first Broadway play to be written by a black woman. For most of the audience, it was the first time they had seen the life of a regular black family portrayed on stage or in film.