CHICAGO – Honoring contributions made by the Black Renaissance Literary Movement in the mid-20th century here, the City Council on Wednesday approved official landmark status for the former homes of several well-known African American writers.
One of them is the Lorraine Hansberry House located in the city’s Woodlawn community. Hansberry is best known as the author of “A Raisin in the Sun.”
Growing up in that home, Hansberry was influenced by her family’s involvement in civil rights struggles, and grew up to become an activist-artist who, through her work, fought for social justice and equal rights. She died in 1965.
“A Rasin in the Sun,” the first drama by an African American woman to be produced on Broadway.
Speaking to the Chicago Tribune, her sister, Mamie Hansberry, now 86 and living in Los Angeles, said she was a teenager in the 1930s when the family first moved into the home, in a white neighborhood. She recalled the time when a chunk of cement was thrown through the family’s window. The piece of cement was lodged into the wall, she said.
“That was a grotesque sight to see that lodged in the wall,” she told the Tribune. “You know that somebody doesn’t like you, doesn’t want you there.”
The incident seven decades ago was seen as a violent message of hate from white neighbors that did not want a Black family living in their neighborhood.
At the time segregation was in full effect and property covenants restricted African Americans from moving into white neighborhoods. Blacks in the city were limited to living in what were known as the “Black Belt” areas. Such neighborhoods, mostly on the city’s South Side, were congested and impoverished.
Lorraine and Mamie’s father Carl Hansberry waged a three-year legal battle for the family’s right to live in their new home. The struggle culminated in 1940 with a U.S. Supreme Court decision that helped end racially discriminatory housing covenants in the city.
The Hansberry family and their legal victory became a symbol of progress for the civil rights movement. Civil rights activists and supporters saw that legal segregation, whether in the schools, at public places or in residential neighborhoods could be challenged successfully. The courage and commitment demonstrated by the Hansberry family paved the way for integrated neighborhoods and other civil rights advances.
According to Mamie Hansberry fighting for civil rights was a natural way of life for her family. She and her siblings would try to eat at white-owned restaurants known for restricting Blacks. When they were denied service, they would sue for equal access, she said.
Other homes granted historic landmarks status include: the Gwendolyn Brooks House, home to the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, author and professor for more than four decades; the Richard Wright House, home of the author of “Native Son;” the Griffiths-Burroughs House, the first home of the DuSable Museum of African American History; and the George Cleveland Hall Branch Library which is known as helping to foster many Black local writers over the years.
Photo: Author and playwright Lorraine Hansberry, in a 1959 photo. (AP)