LORRAINE HANSBERRY

By Tim Sullivan

Today’s fierce female is Lorraine Hansberry.

Born in Chicago in 1930, her father was a successful real-estate broker. When he purchased a home in a white neighborhood in the South Side, the neighbors sued to have the family evicted based on racially restrictive housing laws. The Hansberry vs. Lee case made it to the Supreme Court and was decided in her father’s favor.

After attending the University of Wisconsin, Lorraine moved to Harlem and joined the staff of Paul Robeson’s “Freedom Newspaper.” She worked alongside W.E.B. Dubois, publishing articles not only on the advances of the civil rights movement, but on the toppling of imperialism around the world.

Lorraine’s play based in part on her experience in that Woodlawn neighborhood, A Raisin in the Sun, opened in 1959. It was the first play written by a black woman to be produced on Broadway, and she became the youngest playwright and only the fifth woman to receive a Drama Desk Award for Best New Play. Her screenplay adaptation was rejected by Hollywood, as the subject matter was deemed too controversial for mainstream America.

Like many activists in the civil rights movement, Lorraine’s movements and activities were monitored by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI throughout the 50’s. She was a passionate feminist and advocate for gay rights. Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 1963, she died on the night her second Broadway play The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window closed. She was 34 years old.

Her writings were adapted by her ex-husband Robert Nemiroff into the play and later autobiography To Be Young, Gifted, and Black. This inspired Lorraine’s friend Nina Simone to write a song of the same title about her in 1969.

“The thing that makes you exceptional, if you are at all, is inevitably that which must also make you lonely.”

“As of today, if I am asked abroad if I am a free citizen of the United States of America, I must only say what is true: No.”

“I think it is about time that equipped women began to take on some of the ethical questions which a male-dominated culture has produced and dissect and analyze them quite to pieces in a serious fashion. It is time that 'half the human race' had something to say about the nature of its existence.”

“Men continue to misinterpret the second-rate status of women as implying a privileged status for themselves; heterosexuals think the same way about homosexuals; gentiles about Jews; whites about blacks; haves about have-nots.”

"Never be afraid to sit awhile and think.”

“I wish to live because life has within it that which is good, that which is beautiful, and that which is love. Therefore, since I have known all of these things, I have found them to be reason enough - and I wish to live. Moreover, because this is so, I wish others to live for generations and generations and generations and generations.”

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