P.S. 118 Lorraine Hansberry

Lorraine Hansberry (1930 – 1965) was a playwright, writer, and activist. Her play, “A Raisin in the Sun” (1959), was the first drama by an African American woman produced on Broadway.

Hansberry was born in Chicago in 1930, the youngest of four children to a real estate entrepreneur and a schoolteacher. Her parents were members of the NAACP and the Urban League. She was the niece of Pan-Africanist scholar and college professor Leo Hansberry. In 1938 her family moved to a white neighborhood where they were attacked by neighbors. The Hansberry’s refused to move until a court ordered them to do so, and the case made it to the Supreme Court as Hansberry v. Lee, ruling restrictive covenants illegal. The case was the inspiration for her Broadway play, A Raisin in the Sun, which also became a movie starring Sidney Poitier.

Hansberry attended the University of Wisconsin but left after two years and moved to New York to work as a writer and editor of Paul Robeson’s newspaper Freedom. She was a Communist and committed civil rights activist. She met her husband and closest friend, Robert Nemiroff, at a civil rights demonstration.

Despite her marriage to a man, Hansberry identified as a lesbian, but she was not “out,” though it seems like she was on the path to a more open life before her death, having built a circle of gay and lesbian friends. In 1964, Hansberry and Nemiroff divorced but continued to work together, and he was the executor of her estate when she died of cancer in 1965. Nemiroff donated all of Hansberry's personal and professional effects to the New York Public Library but blocked access to all materials related to Hansberry's lesbianism for 50 years. Nemiroff passed away in 1991, and in 2013, Nemiroff's daughter released the restricted materials for research.


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