Lorraine Hansberry homes and sites
5330 S. Calumet Avenue on the Southside of Chicago was the first home of playwright Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965). Hansberry later described the black neighborhood as having “scrubbed porches that sag and look their danger. Dirty gray wood steps. And always a line of white and pink clothes scrubbed so well, waving in the dirty wind of the city.”
When Hansberry was a young child, her father, a prosperous businessman, moved his family to a middle-class white neighborhood of Chicago (6140 Rhodes Avenue), where their house was surrounded by an angry white mob and a brick thrown through the window. It was the difficulty of blacks seeking better housing in traditionally white neighborhoods that Hansberry placed at the center of her celebrated play, A Raisin in the Sun (1959). Raisin was the first play by an African-American woman to be produced on Broadway.
Hansberry was committed to the discussion of social injustice. After college, she moved to New York City, where she worked for Paul Robeson’s journal, Freedom, and studied African history with W. E. B. DuBois. Hansberry also became an ardent feminist. Though she married Robert Nemiroff in 1953, they separated amicably a few years later, when Hansberry began the process of coming out as a lesbian in Greenwich Village. A subscriber to the early lesbian magazine, The Ladder, she wrote several letters to the editor – signed “L.H.N.,” for Lorraine Hansberry Nemiroff – in 1957 in support of lesbian rights and feminism.
Sadly, Hansberry died of cancer at the young age of 34, with plans for many more plays than she was able to write. Her contribution as an African-American woman to literature is recognized at the Lorraine Hansberry branch, Chicago Public Library, 4314 South Cottage Grove Avenue.
…I’m glad as heck that you exist. You are obviously serious people and I feel that women, without wishing to foster any strict separatist notions, homo or hetero, indeed have a need for their own publications and organizations. Our problems, our experiences as women are profoundly unique as compared to the other half of the human race…. I feel that THE LADDER is a fine, elementary step in a rewarding direction.
–extract from Lorraine Hansberry [L.H.N.] letter to the editor, The Ladder, May 1957