WILL POWER! STUDY GUIDE
Welcome to Yale Repertory Theatre’s WILL POWER! program. This Study Guide accompanies our production of A Raisin in the Sun, directed by Carl Cofield. The articles will prepare you to study the play and watch the production. You can read the articles before or after you see the show. We can’t wait to see you at the theater!
CONTENTS Lorraine Hansberry Bio...................................1
A Raisin in the Sun Synopsis.........................1 A Raisin in the Sun Character Map............3 “Harlem” and A Poet’s Notebook...............5 Interview with Carl Cofield...........................7 A Literary Family Tree of Black Female Playwrights.............................9
A Raisin in the Sun Production History......................................... 11 Pan-Africanism............................................... 14 Redlining.......................................................... 15
0 SEAS ON
LORRAINE HANSBERRY; AN INSPIRATION TO GENERATIO Lorraine Vivian Hansberry was born May 19, 1930, the youngest of four children in a middle-class Black family in Chicago. Her parents had both been born in the South and moved as part of the Great Migration, the relocation of six million African Americans from the rural South to Northern urban centers in the early 20th century. In Chicago, her father Carl Augustus Hansberry became a successful realestate broker, and her mother Nannie Louise Hansberry, a schoolteacher and ward committeewoman; both were active in the Urban League and the NAACP, and civil rights luminaries often visited the Hansberry family.
When her father bought a home in Washington Park, an all-white neighborhood in Chicago’s South Side, white neighbors tried to oust their family through violent attacks and legal proceedings. With support from the NAACP, Carl Hansberry pled their case all the way up to the United States Supreme Court, which finally protected their right to their home. After completing high school in Chicago, Hansberry enrolled in the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she was politically active on campus and studied visual art—until a chance encounter with Sean O’Casey’s play Juno and the Paycock inspired her interest in theater. In 1950, she left school to pursue what she called “an education of another kind” in New York City. Hansberry joined the staff of Freedom, a new Pan-Africanist magazine helmed by Paul Robeson, where she started as
When Mama makes a down payment on a house, Walter Lee feels betrayed. He skips work at his chauffeur job to wander and drink, bitterly disappointed. Ruth finds herself pregnant at a time when her family is on the verge of collapse, so she considers having an abortion. Mama, seeing her son in pain, decides to give him the remainder of the money—pronouncing him head of the household. She gives him $6500, asking him to put $3000 aside for Beneatha’s medical school education and use the rest to fund his ventures. Empowered by his mother’s trust, Walter Lee tells Travis to dream big for his future.
Five people across three generations live crammed into a tiny two-bedroom apartment. It’s the 1950s, and the Younger family feels stuck in Chicago’s racially segregated South Side. Squalid, cramped conditions choke their dreams. The family patriarch, Walter Younger, Sr., has died, and his family breathlessly awaits a $10,000 life insurance check. Each family member sees the money as a ticket to their dreams. His widow Lena, or “Mama,” wants to buy a house; their son Walter Lee wants to open a liquor store; their daughter Beneatha wants to go to medical school. Walter Lee’s wife, Ruth, is torn, but she ultimately wants the best for her family, especially their tenyear-old son Travis. Tensions escalate over how to spend the money. 3
Meanwhile, Beneatha is dating two young men: Joseph Asagai, a visiting student from Nigeria, and George Murchison, who comes from a wealthy African American family. George embraces assimilation into a predominately white society because he sees that as the road to the American Dream. Asagai, on the other hand, encourages Beneatha’s growing interest in her African heritage; Beneatha explores her identity by dancing in Nigerian dress and not straightening her hair, wearing it in a natural afro.
a “subscription clerk, receptionist, typist, and editorial assistant” but quickly became a staff writer investigating racial injustice. On a picket line, she met a fellow activist, a Jewish songwriter named Robert Nemiroff, whom she married in 1953.
As the newlyweds settled in their Greenwich Village home, Nemiroff encouraged her writing, and by 1957, Hansberry had written the first draft of a new play: A Raisin in the Sun. The play went to Broadway and earned the young playwright acclaim and near-instant fame. In 1957, as A Raisin in the Sun was taking off, Hansberry and her husband separated, and they later legally divorced in 1964, but they always remained close friends and collaborators; Nemiroff continued to help produce her plays, and she named him as her literary executor before her death. During this time, Hansberry quietly pursued romantic relationships with other women and joined the lesbian-rights organization Daughters of Bilitis, even writing several letters to the editors of their magazine, The Ladder, signed only with her initials. While Hansberry remained closeted, and her sexuality has often been excluded from biographies, Hansberry’s longest-term lover, Dorothy Secules, was a tenant in her Greenwich Village brownstone and an honorary pallbearer at her funeral. After the success of A Raisin in the Sun, Hansberry became an important voice for civil rights—and kept writing. While her first two drafts for a film adaptation of A Raisin in the Sun were rejected as too politically radical, her third attempt premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 1961. She also wrote a never-produced television script called The Drinking Gourd and two more plays.
As the family prepares to move, they receive a surprise visitor. Mama chose the best house available for the least money. Because of racist housing policies, an all-white neighborhood offered the best value, but not the greatest welcome. Karl Lindner, one of their new neighbors, arrives as a representative of the “Clybourne Park Improvement Association” to offer to buy the house back from the Youngers; the white residents of Clybourne Park do not want to live alongside a Black family, and they’re willing to pay to keep them out. The Youngers proudly refuse the bribe. On moving day, another surprise visitor arrives: Walter Lee’s business partner Bobo confesses that that their associate Willy Harris has swindled them both. He ran away with all their money—including what Walter was supposed to have set aside for Beneatha’s education. The family is shocked at the loss and disappointed by Walter Lee’s poor judgment. Beneatha questions her dream of becoming a doctor: Walter Lee’s mistake not only squandered her school fund but also diminished her faith in helping people. Asagai suggests she revise her dream and
NS YET UNBORN Her second play, The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, premiered on Broadway in 1964. Centered on Sidney Brustein, a Greenwich Village writer, and his tumultuous marriage, the play casts an unflattering light on 1960s bohemian culture and questions political and social progress. The play was less of a critical and commercial hit than A Raisin in the Sun, but Hansberry’s friends and artistic community rallied around the production—because Hansberry had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and her health was failing. The play closed in January 1965, the same night that Hansberry died at the age of 34. Hansberry’s third play, Les Blancs, was incomplete at the time of her death, but Nemiroff posthumously edited and produced it in 1970. The ambitious, epic work explores colonialism and revolution in an unnamed African country. Nemiroff also compiled her other writing—essays, speeches, letters, and diary entries—into a new autobiographical play called To Be Young, Gifted, and Black. Later theater-makers and scholars have admiringly reexamined Sidney Brustein and Les Blancs as works that were too ahead of their time to be appreciated during Hansberry’s short life. Over 600 people filled the Church of the Master in Harlem for Hansberry’s memorial: Paul Robeson, Nina Simone, and Malcolm X were among her mourners, and James Baldwin and Martin Luther King, Jr. sent testimonials. In a message read at Hansberry’s funeral, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote: “Her creative ability and her profound grasp of the deep social issues confronting the world today will remain an inspiration to generations yet unborn.” King anticipated Hansberry’s lasting literary and political legacy—one we, those “generations yet unborn,” inherit today. —MOLLY FITZMAURICE
return to Nigeria with him to practice medicine and spark anti-colonial revolution.
DREAMS DEFERRED As Lena reflects on Walter Lee and Beneatha’s big dreams, she realizes, “You something new, boy. In my time we was worried about not being lynched and getting to the North if we could and how to stay alive and still have a pinch of dignity too. Now here come you and Beneatha—talking about things we ain’t never even thought about hardly, me and your daddy.” Lena and Walter, Sr., faced Jim Crow laws and threats of imminent violence in the South. Different, sometimes subtler and sometimes not, manifestations of racism affect her children a generation later. Men like Mr. Lindner dress their overt racism in civility, but what he shrouds in euphemism was often written explicitly into laws to sustain generational poverty, racial segregation, and overpriced rent in Black neighborhoods—to name just a few of the barriers the Youngers face. In one small but pivotal example: Walter Lee loses the money when he entrusts Willy Harris with bribing officials to expedite their liquor license and other paperwork needed to open their store. In contrast, Walter Lee describes seeing “cool, quietlooking restaurants where them white boys are sitting back and talking ’bout things—sitting there turning deals worth millions of dollars,” which is hardly the onerous bureaucracy he loses his family fortune trying to circumnavigate.
Mama decides to cancel their move and stay in the apartment, since now they may not be able to afford the monthly mortgage payments. But Walter Lee has another idea. He invites Karl Lindner back, planning to beg for the white neighbors’ offer by enacting a humiliating minstrel-like stereotype of Black subservience and desperation.
In A Raisin in the Sun, how does systemic oppression defer the Youngers’ dreams?
But when Mr. Lindner arrives, Walter Lee changes his mind. He summons his dignity, refuses the money, and resolves that the family will move into their new home. As the moving men cart boxes, Mama feels proud of her son for finally coming into his own. She lingers in the apartment, looking back on its memories; at the last minute, she grabs the potted plant that she has been carefully tending and painstakingly keeping alive in their tenement’s one window. She carries this symbol of both hope and adversity into their new home, a home which threatens unwelcoming, racist neighbors but promises a garden.
What are your dreams? What would you sacrifice to achieve them—and what wouldn’t you? What obstacles do you face in achieving your dreams? How are those obstacles similar or different from those the Youngers face, and why?
Walter Younger, Sr. (Deceased)
CHARACTER MAP Walter Younger, Sr. (Deceased)
A better life for his children. “He sure loved his children. Always wanted them to have something—be something,” Lena describes, remembering how he used to say, “Seem like God didn’t see fit to give the black man nothing but dreams—but He did give us children to make the dreams seem worthwhile.”
WHAT HE SACRIFICED:
His life. Lena says she, “seen him grow thin and old before he was forty— working and working and working like somebody’s old horse—killing himself!”
WHAT HE DIDN’T:
His pride. Walter Lee draws inspiration from his father when he ultimately rejects Lindner’s offer, saying, “my father almost beat a man to death once because this man called him a bad name or something. [...] We are very proud people.”
Lena Younger (Mama)
A house of their own with a garden. “You should know all the dreams I had ’bout buying that house and fixing it up and making me a little garden in the back,” she says.
WHAT SHE’LL SACRIFICE:
Her safety. She buys a house in a white neighborhood, knowing they may face harassment, because she “just tried to find the nicest place for the least amount of money for my family.”
WHAT SHE WON’T:
Her children. She entrusts the remaining money—including Beneatha’s education funds—to Walter Lee when she sees how embittered he is becoming with no means to pursue his dreams. She tells him: “There ain’t nothing as precious to me—there ain’t nothing worth holding on to, money, dreams, nothing else— if it means—if it means it’s going to destroy my boy.” In supporting him, she even sets aside her reservations about selling liquor, which her religious beliefs discourage.
Becoming a doctor. “I always thought it was the one concrete thing in the world that a human being could do,” she says, “Fix up the sick, you know—and make them whole again. This was truly being God.”
WHAT SHE’LL SACRIFICE:
Money. Beneatha refuses the affections of her wealthy suitor, George Murchison.
WHAT SHE WON’T:
Her freedom. Beneatha loves to “experiment with different forms of expression,” as she searches for her identity: she picks up hobbies from horseback riding to guitar, dates multiple young men with no intention of rushing into marriage, and cuts off her processed hair to embrace its natural texture.
A NEW DREAM?
At the end of the play, Beneatha is considering Joseph Asagai’s proposal that she marry him, move with him to Nigeria, and practice medicine there— an evolution of her childhood dream.
Lena Younger (Mama)
alter Lee Younger
Ruth Younger Travis Younger
Walter Lee Younger
Success. “I want so many things that they are driving me kind of crazy,” says Walter Lee. Dissatisfied with his job as a chauffeur, he dreams of opening a liquor store—which he hopes will be a launchpad to greater wealth and power.
WHAT HE’LL SACRIFICE:
The money, his common sense, and his dignity. He gives his untrustworthy business partner Willy all the money— including money promised for Beneatha’s education—to kickstart the business. When Willy runs off with the money, his con devastates Walter Lee. Now convinced morality is a mere distraction from the cycle of taking or being “tooken” that drives the world, Walter Lee decides to accept Lindner’s money and even plans to perform his own personal minstrel show.
WHAT HE WON’T:
His father’s pride. Throughout the play, Walter Lee seems ambitious and unscrupulous, as if there is little he wouldn’t sacrifice. When his mother challenges his obsession with money, he retorts that “money is life.” But when he faces Lindner at the end of the play, he finally chooses pride in his family instead. “We have decided to move into our house,” he says, “because my father—my father—he earned it for us, brick by brick.”
Her family. As Hansberry writes, “She is a woman in the middle, torn between the needs and dreams of others, and she subordinates herself because, caring deeply about theirs, she chooses to; but underneath is a fire that will erupt as needs be.”
WHAT SHE’LL SACRIFICE:
Her pregnancy. Unexpectedly pregnant, Ruth weighs whether or not to have an abortion; by terminating the pregnancy she could avoid putting an additional burden on the family’s precarious finances and on her turbulent relationship with Walter Lee.
WHAT SHE WON’T:
Unknown. More than having dreams of his own, ten-year-old Travis finds the adults in his family project their dreams onto him. His grandmother, Lena, wants him to be the first to know after she’s bought a house—one where he’ll have his own room for the first time. When his father, Walter Lee, asks him what he wants to be when he grows up, Travis replies “a bus driver,” and Walter Lee urges him to be more ambitious, like he is. Ruth processes her mixed and changing feelings toward her husband through their son: she scolds Travis for staying out late without notice or spending pocket money frivolously, faults his father shares.
Herself. While initially reserved, Ruth begins to advocate for herself with greater passion and confidence. After Walter loses the money and Lena resigns herself to staying in the apartment, it’s Ruth who insists, “I’ll work! I’ll work twenty hours a day in all the kitchens in Chicago! I’ll strap my baby on my back if I have to—and scrub all the floors in America and wash all the sheets in America if I have to—but we got to MOVE! We got to get OUT OF HERE!”
A Raisin in the Sun Character Map
One of Beneatha’s suitors: a visiting college student from Nigeria.
Revolution. To return to Nigeria and overthrow colonial rule and improve lives he now sees plagued by “illiteracy and disease and ignorance”—with Beneatha by his side as his wife.
WHAT HE’LL SACRIFICE: His life. He understands that change might be violent—and he’s willing to “be butchered in my bed some night by the servants of empire.”
One of Beneatha’s suitors: a fellow college student from a wealthy African American family.
Status. To sustain—or even further—his family’s status and wealth by earning a college degree, frequenting cultural events like the theater, and wearing stylish clothes—all with a girl on his arm.
WHAT HE’LL SACRIFICE: Authenticity. He is more interested in a degree than an education, saying: “It’s simple, you read books—to learn facts— to get grades—to pass the course—to get a degree. That’s all—it has nothing to do with thoughts.”
A representative from the ironically named “welcoming committee” of the family’s prospective new neighborhood, Clybourne Park.
Maintaining his all-white neighborhood, or as he euphemizes: “The kind of community we want to raise our children in.”
WHAT HE’LL SACRIFICE: Money. He and others from his neighborhood have pooled money to buy the house back from the Younger family for more than they paid.
WHAT HE WON’T:
Decency—or so he claims. He clings to his self-conception as a decent man, insisting “that race prejudice simply doesn’t enter into it” and even claiming he’s working for the greater good, since he believes everyone’s happier living among folks from a “common background.”
Look at how Hughes emphasizes the question in this first stanza by rhyming “sun” with “run.” He compares the image of a raisin drying up
with that of an oozing, festering sore. What are the contrasts between those two images?
This stanza follows the same technique as above. The rotting of meat is contrasted to
something syrupy sweet. How do those images make you feel?
A friend of Walter Lee’s, Bobo partners with him and Willy Harris to open a liquor store.
The liquor store.
WHAT HE’LL SACRIFICE: His savings. He puts it all on the line, and like Walter, he’s financially ruined by Willy’s con.
WHAT HE WON’T:
Decency. Hansberry emphasizes that “Bobo is not a con-man but a victim,” just like Walter, and his choice to go to Walter to let him know what happened “is an act of great courage.”
Notice how this is the only line in the poem that does not pose a
question. It is different than the final stanza both in structure and in style. This suggests the weight of a burden, while the final line suggests an explosion.
hes and “H
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sought to secure equal rights for Black Americans.
An Interview with Director Carl Cofield Carl Cofield, the director leading Yale Rep’s production of A Raisin in the Sun, spoke with production co-dramaturgs Eric M. Glover and Ashley M. Thomas about his journey into theater, his directing approach for twenty-first century audiences, and the legacy of Lorraine Hansberry’s modern masterwork. ASHLEY M. THOMAS: You have a fascinating a career. You’re a director, a professor, and the Associate Artistic Director for the Classical Theatre of Harlem. But exactly how did you get started? CARL COFIELD: I started as an actor. My uncle was an actor, so I followed him to the theater when I was a little boy and just fell in love with it. The power that live theater could bring to an audience is something that left an indelible impression on my childhood memory. I fell in love with the ritual of theater—actors and audience together breathing the same air, really sharing an experience. I went to the University of Miami for my undergraduate degree. Most of the actors whom I admired had all started in theater, so I had dreams of joining the Negro Ensemble Company when I moved to New York. Unfortunately, when I arrived, the landscape of theater had changed. I worked for many regional theaters like Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.; McCarter Theatre Center in New Jersey; and Berkeley Repertory Theatre in California. I had a successful career. While working at regional theaters, I realized having a theater in your community is one of the primary things that shapes it. So a few years ago, I decided to make a change into directing because institution-building is a big part of my mission. I followed the track record of a longdistinguished group of artistic directors whom I admired. As a matter of fact, James Bundy, the artistic director of Yale Rep, was one of them. Soon after, I went to Columbia University School of the Arts, where I did their directing concentration, and I’ve been making theater ever since. ERIC M. GLOVER: You directed Classical Theatre of Harlem’s 2018 production of Sophocles’s Antigone and directed Yale Rep’s 2019 WILL POWER! production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. What is it about ancient Greek drama and English Renaissance drama that enlightens you when you direct the plays of August Wilson (who worked with Lloyd Richards at Yale Rep) and productions of A Raisin in the Sun?
CC: I am drawn to plays that effect black and brown people directly and that ask big existential questions about humanity. When I directed Antigone, I could not help but think of twelve-year-old Tamir Rice, who was murdered by the police. Tamir’s fourteen-year-old sister wanted to comfort her dying brother, but the police restrained her. It was one of the big guiding points into how I approached the play. A twenty-first-century black and brown audience can get behind a heroic woman’s story of making sure the police respect her brother’s body. The common denominator between Hansberry, Shakespeare, Sophocles, and Wilson is love, surprisingly. I investigate their plays with a lens of, “What’s the love? How is the love catapulting us into action, and how is the love suppressing us from action?” In our political climate now, we are still there. There are people for whom if you say you are on one side of an argument, you are in direct conflict with the other. I use plays as a way for all of us to come together for two hours in the same room, do the ritual of theater that has existed for thousands of years, and foster a dialogue that is much needed. AMT: Do you remember the first time you read A Raisin in the Sun? What was your first reaction? CC: It took me until either high school or undergraduate to read it, but my first experience was when I saw Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee in the film version. When I saw the film, a light went off. I was already familiar with the Langston Hughes poem, “Harlem,” from which the play’s title is derived, but when I really saw Sidney Poitier embody the role of Walter Lee and the family dynamic—it was an awakening. There was always Hamlet in Hamlet and Tom in Glass Menagerie for my classmates, but I always felt left out of the picture until I was exposed to these rich characters in A Raisin in the Sun. It was a game changer. Walter Lee in my humble opinion is without question one of the greatest roles in the Western canon. AMT: How did you come to work on this production of A Raisin in the Sun with Yale Repertory Theatre? CC: I’ve had the good fortune of working with Yale Repertory Theatre before. James Bundy approached me about directing A Raisin in the Sun, and before he could even finish, I said yes. It’s such a tremendous honor.
EMG: You mentioned how it was significant for you to work on A Raisin in the Sun given its early roots in New Haven and the fact that original director Lloyd Richards served as artistic director of Yale Rep and dean of Yale School of Drama from 1979 to 1991. Why? CC: I treat New Haven as sacred ground because Lorraine and Lloyd worked on this play here at the Shubert Theatre in 1959. To think what a herculean task it was to get this play to Broadway. It is something that I am very mindful of. I feel very privileged to be working on A Raisin in the Sun at Yale Repertory Theatre, and I am super excited to reinvestigate this amazing, amazing play. We talk about standing on the shoulders of our ancestors. I could not think of a more accurate description of how I feel about being fortunate enough to direct this play. AMT: Speaking of Lorraine Hansberry—she was both an artist and an activist. What exactly comes to mind when you think about that and how does her life have resonance with you? CC: She was a tremendous trailblazer with foresight and grace. Lorraine Hansberry was the embodiment of the warrior/artist. Her arena was the theater, and her weapons were these beautiful stories she crafted. They serve much like other classic plays. They remind us of our humanity and force us to look at the underbelly of life. Lorraine Hansberry was relatively young when she wrote A Raisin in the Sun— another aspect to this beautifully complex woman. She was able to give voice and fully thought-out arguments to several compelling issues: classism in the Black American community; progressive women defying the norms of the time; abortion; a love story between a man and a woman at a crossroads in their relationship; even the difference between the African experience and the Black American experience. These are thorough, holistic, and viable arguments, and I have yet to see another text that can stand up to that. AT: What do you want the audience to walk away with from this production of A Raisin in the Sun? CC: This production is timed perfectly. Writers like Ta-Nehisi Coates are making a case for reparations, and at the core of this dialogue is how our ancestral wealth has been stolen from Black Americans by denying us access to housing. The “bootstraps” myth is one that appears all throughout the Western canon. I hope my audience can realize that Walter Lee has been tantalized by this capitalistic dream that we continually perpetuate. I also want them to see these are not people to be pitied. There is a strong love—love that great authors and musicians have written and sung about over the history of the world, that keeps this family together. That love starts with Lena Younger. Even in the face of adversity and trying times, she’s able to maintain love. That’s something I especially want to highlight in our production. The Youngers may be poor financially, but they’re rich in other aspects.
AMT: How do you keep yourself engaged and excited as an artist? CC: I’m a husband, a father, and an artist. As a Black man on my life’s journey, it becomes more important for me to interrogate a text. Finding out what’s underneath it excites me. I wonder, “What are we talking about? What’s really at the core of it?” I’m very fortunate to be working at Columbia University, and I’m very fortunate to see my students’ work. Going to Yale Cabaret and seeing how people are deconstructing stories and reinventing stories gets me excited, especially with how technology is being used today. We’re finding out what theater really is about. It’s been around longer than social media and movies. Theater will probably withstand whatever we throw at it. AMT: What advice would you give to aspiring artists? CC: Find your voice and try not to be an echo of someone else. Your stories matter, and we need you in the field. It’s definitely not easy, but creative thinking right now is at such a premium. I think the theater model is actually one that a lot of companies are starting to use: getting highly skilled people together for a short period of time to make something. That is theater. That’s what it’s about. CARL COFIELD directed Twelfth Night (Yale Rep); One Night in Miami (Rogue Machine Theater; Denver Center Theatre Company; Los Angeles NAACP Award, Best Director); A Raisin in the Sun (Two River Theater Company); Henry IV Part 2 (Oregon Shakespeare Festival); Disgraced (Denver Center); The Mountaintop (Cleveland Play House); Dutchman (Classical Theatre of Harlem/ National Black Theatre); Antigone, The Tempest, and Macbeth (Classical Theatre of Harlem). He was associate director for The White Card by Claudia Rankine, directed by Diane Paulus (American Repertory Theater), and Camp David by Laurence Wright, directed by Molly Smith (Arena Stage); and he directed a reading of Camp David for President and First Lady Carter (The Carter Center). Acting credits include Manhattan Theater Club (Ruined), Berkeley Rep, Alliance Theatre, Arena Stage, The Shakespeare Theater, Intiman Theatre, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Shakespeare Santa Cruz, Milwaukee Rep, Alabama Shakespeare, McCarter Theatre, The Acting Company, The Studio Theatre, and many others. Carl is the Associate Artistic Director of Classical Theatre of Harlem. He teaches at New York University and The New School. Education: M.F.A., Columbia University. carlcofield.com
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Lorraine Hansberry (1930–65) A Raisin in the Sun: A Drama in Three Acts (1959): Discriminatory housing practices and poverty— affecting behavior, health outcomes, and learning— threaten the Youngers with destruction.
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Hansberry’s literary family tree includes notable Black women playwrights who took the stage before and after her. If you are looking for historical and contemporary plays by and about Black women, you may start with Hansberry in 1959 and find daring women before her, after her, and into the future.
Plays by and about Black women reflect a variety of styles and substances, by turns dramatic and funny, and ranging from folk drama influences and realism in the past to more experimental techniques in the present. Playwrights take up matters of Black community, Black Nationalism, private and public spheres, self-definition, and selfdetermination, as well as issues of economics, gender, politics, religion, romance, and violence in everything from full-length dramatic works to oneacts to pageants.
a Aleshe Harris
The crown of Lorraine Hansberry’s literary family tree of Black women playwrights reaches high, and the roots run deep across space and time. A legacy of Black women playwrights anchors her to the soil and feeds not only her creative work but also the generations of future playwrights she inspires to tell stories of their own. The origins of Black women writing for the theater look backward at slavery and freedom and reach forward into the #blacklivesmatter age and on to a truly more perfect union. However, racism and sexism made it hard—and continue to make it hard—for Black women playwrights to climb to the top and make it onto the professional stages that mark success—those of regional theater, Off-Broadway, and Broadway.
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Lydia R. Diamond (1969–)
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Stick Fly (2006): Lydia R. Diamond’s play picks up where Hansberry leaves off, showing that material prosperity comes at much too high a cost for Blacks.
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Kirsten Greenidge The Luck of the Irish (2012): Grandchildren of the African American Taylors face eviction from their Boston home when the IrishAmerican ghost buyers Joe and Patty Ann lay claim to it.
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Nambi E. Kelley (1973–)
Native Son (Yale Repertory Theatre, 2017): In Nambi E. Kelley’s theatrical adaptation of Richard Wright’s novel Native Son, Bigger is hampered by a miasma of crime. (Paul Green and Richard Wright also adapted the novel for the stage in 1941.)
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Nambi E. Kelley (1973–)
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Gloria Bond Clunie Living Green (2009): Angela and Frank Freeman, an upwardly mobile mid-1990s Chicago African American couple, consider a return to the neighborhood of their youth to humble their children.
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Ama Ata Aidoo (1942–) The Dilemma of a Ghost (1964): African Ato and African American Eulalie marry, thus testing their definite beliefs about each other.
Alice Childress (1916–94) Trouble in Mind: A Comedy-Drama in Two Acts (1955): Aging Wiletta Mayer, star of the play within a play Chaos in Belleville, swallows her pride and takes on the role of a stereotype.
Peculiar Sam; or, the Underground Railroad: A Musical Drama in Four Acts (1879): The first musical by a Black person; Sam who is himself enslaved secretly helps family members to reach the North on the Underground Railroad.
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Rachel (1916): The title character in Angelina Weld Grimké’s play promises herself to never bring children into the world because of extrajudicial killings of Blacks.
Eulalie Spence (1894-1981) The Fool’s Errand (1927): The first play by a Black woman to be produced on Broadway; busybodies are on a wild goose chase determining an unborn child’s biological father.
“NOT ONLY WHAT IS BUT WHAT IS POSSI
A Raisin in the Sun as a Living, Breathing Example o
The artist creating a realistic work shows not only what is but what is possible—which is part of reality too. —LORRAINE HANSBERRY, “MAKE NEW SOUNDS: AN INTERVIEW WITH LORRAINE HANSBERRY BY STUDS TERKEL” Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun made history when it became the second play by a Black woman to be produced on Broadway; Eulalie Spence’s 1927 Krigwa Players comedy The Fool’s Errand was the first with its one performance. However, recognizing Spence as the first in no way lessens Hansberry’s impact on American theater. The fifth woman, first Black, and youngest recipient of the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best American Play for 1958–59, Hansberry and her play were revived later in new productions Off-Broadway and all across the country. Raisin was adapted into a film starring Sidney Poitier in 1961, and a musical starring Joe Morton in 1973. Not only were there amateur and professional productions of Raisin in what was then Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, and Russia, but there were also critical editions and translations of Raisin in at least thirty foreign languages. This article and accompanying chronology of historical events explores the original Broadway production through the life of the playwright and the making of her play in order to detail how the opening night cast and production staff animated her play and set a standard for expressive culture on the stage in and out of Black America.
About the World of the Play
A Raisin in the Sun provides the audience an opportunity to see what is usually referred to as kitchen-sink realism or, rather, the squalid aspects of everyday life. Characters who have to overcome loneliness from those around them because of the differences in their dreams drive this penetrating psychological study of Black working-class values in the early 1950s on Chicago’s South Side. Lena Younger (“Mama”) wants to put money from her dearly departed husband’s life-insurance policy toward: (a) a down payment on a home in Clybourne Park, a white Chicago neighborhood with
1940 The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Hansberry v. Lee that the law forbade de facto racial segregation in white Chicago neighborhoods.
discriminatory housing practices, and (b) medical school for her daughter, Beneatha Younger, who is herself based on Hansberry. Lena’s son, Walter Lee Younger (“Brother”), a chauffeur hired to drive people around the city, wants to put money toward owning and operating a liquor store with Bobo and Willy Harris. Walter considers selling out to Karl Lindner, representative of the Clybourne Park Improvement Association, when one of his friends escapes with his money.
About the Author of the Play
The facts of Hansberry v. Lee, the 1940 law case Hansberry’s father Carl argued successfully in court, contributed to the development of the play. Inspired by Hansberry’s experience of being born in a high-income family but raised in lowincome housing, A Raisin in the Sun embodied and expressed Hansberry’s experience with anti-Black racism at age eight: “My memories of this ‘correct’ way of fighting white supremacy in America include being spat at, cursed, and pummeled in the daily trek to and from school.” Hansberry and her family endured attacks by whites when they moved amid white domestic terrorism into a white Chicago neighborhood with discriminatory housing practices. Given the fact that the creative work was inspired by an event in the real world, Steven R. Carter, author of Hansberry’s Drama, made a case for reading Hansberry’s autobiographical writings closely: “The incident will form part of the background for Lorraine’s most famous play, A Raisin in the Sun, the first draft of which concludes with the black family sitting in the dark, armed, awaiting an attack by hostile whites.” The first draft of the play’s storyline about white domestic terrorism has been lost to the dustbin of Black theater and performance history.
1954 The Supreme Court ruled unanimously (9-0) in Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka that the “separate but equal” racial doctrine from Plessy v. Ferguson in public education violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.
Activist Rosa Parks chose to not give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, igniting the Montgomery bus boycott. Two white men kidnapped Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old Black boy from Chicago’s South Side, and killed him for the crime of whistling at white woman Carolyn Bryant— something he did not do—while spending summer vacation in Mississippi.
f Black Theater and Performance History Frequently seeing plays led Hansberry, self-taught as a playwright, to her own creative work. Jesse H. Walker covering Hansberry in the New York Amsterdam News, a Black daily newspaper flanking Atlanta Daily World, Baltimore Afro-American, the Chicago Defender, Los Angeles Sentinel, and the Pittsburgh Courier, reported: “She told her husband she could write a play involving the Negro in which the characters would be fully dimensional and would have problems as people, problems and persons who would transcend the specifics of their being Negro.” Hansberry was a student of the theater haunted by popular white theatrical representations of Blackness, such as Marc Connelly’s 1930 play The Green Pastures; George and Ira Gershwin’s 1935 musical Porgy and Bess, which was itself based on Dorothy and DuBose Heyward’s 1927 play Porgy; and Eugene O’Neill’s 1920 play The Emperor Jones. She intrinsically sought theatrical representations of Black people’s concerns and conditions that were worthy of their complexity. When it came to the care and the superintendence that Hansberry showed for text and performance, authorized biographer Margaret B. Wilkerson argued that in theory and practice
1957 1959 A dinner at Lorraine Hansberry and Robert Nemiroff’s Greenwich Village apartment ended with a reading from her latest draft of A Raisin in the Sun and with Philip Rose signing on as the producer of the play before and beyond Broadway. The Little Rock Nine, a group of Black high school students, endured attacks from their white peers when they integrated the public school system.
Original Broadway production at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, New York, directed by Lloyd Richards and starring Sidney Poitier. Awarded the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best American Play. Production at the Adelphi Theater, London, directed by Lloyd Richards and starring Earle Hyman.
“[t]he theater was a working laboratory for this brilliant woman whose sighted eyes and feeling heart caused her to reach out to a world at once cruel and beautiful.”
About the Script’s Production History
There were only a month and a half of rehearsals with the script before it played public performances on January 21, 1959, at the Shubert Theatre, New Haven. The script excited Philip Rose so much so that he recruited Sidney Poitier to star. Poitier then in turn recruited Lloyd Richards, who would later become artistic director of Yale Repertory Theatre and dean of the Yale School of Drama, to direct. Regrettably, Cynthia Belgrave’s role of Mrs. Johnson, the Youngers’ nice-nasty next-door neighbor who warned them of a bomb that awaited them should they move to Clybourne Park, was cut out in rehearsal. David J. Cogan and Rose took the play first to New Haven, then Philadelphia, then Chicago while waiting for an available theater on Broadway. A Raisin in the Sun was first presented on Broadway by Cogan and Rose on March 11, 1959, bolstered by $75,000.00 from 147 investors (unheard-of back in the day). Claudia
Release of the Columbia Pictures Entertainment film, directed by Daniel Petrie and starring Sidney Poitier.
Lorraine Hansberry died of pancreatic cancer.
Original Broadway production of the musical Raisin based on the play at the 46th Street Theater, New York, directed and choreographed by Donald McKayle and starring Joe Morton.
Awarded the Festival de Cannes Prix Gary Cooper.
Right: Louis Gossett, Ruby Dee, and Sidney Poitier in the original Broadway production of A Raisin in the Sun, Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 1959, directed by Lloyd Richards. Friedman-Abeles Collection, New York Public Library.
Black Theater and Performance History McNeil played Lena, a good-natured but tyrannical matriarch; Academy Award-nominated Poitier played Walter, a frustrated man who was surrounded by too many women; and Diana Sands played Beneatha, a freethinking college student. Highlighted were Ruby Dee as Ruth Younger, Ivan Dixon as Joseph Asagai, playwright Lonne Elder III as Bobo, John Fiedler as Karl Lindner, Louis Gossett as George Murchison, Ed Hall and the Negro Ensemble Company founder Douglas Turner Ward as Moving Men, and Glynn Turman as Travis Younger. Activist Harry Belafonte, actress June Havoc, poet Langston Hughes, athlete Jackie Robinson, publisher Dorothy Schiff, and journalist Chuck Stone, among others, went to the theater on opening night to see the production. The opening night cast and production staff were, and remain up to the present, a veritable who’s who of Black theater and performance history.
About the Relevant Criticism
Blacks in America have been in Lena and Walter’s predicament from “forty acres and a mule” in Reconstruction to the overuse of subprime mortgages in 2007-09. Because of the singularity of Hansberry’s technique when it came to writing about family and home, James Baldwin, who
1974 1983 1986 Awarded the Tony Award for Best Musical.
Production by 127th Street Repertory Ensemble, New York, directed by Ernie McClintock and featuring Tupac (“Makaveli”/“2Pac”) Shakur as Ruth and Walter’s son, Travis. 25th-anniversary production by Yale Repertory Theatre, New Haven, directed by Dennis Scott and starring Delroy Lindo.
Production by The Roundabout Theatre Company, New York, directed by Harold Scott and starring James Pickens, Jr. and later at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, DC, directed by Harold Scott and starring Delroy Lindo.
eulogized his very close friend in the pages of Esquire magazine after her death at age thirty-four from pancreatic cancer, argued that “[w]hat is relevant here is that I had never in my life seen so many black people in the theater. And the reason was that never in the history of the American theater had so much of the truth of black people’s lives been seen on the stage. Black people ignored the theater because the theater had always ignored them.” The reporting in Black daily newspapers asked readers to consider how and why they believed what they believed about Black people and theater history. Langston Hughes, author of the 1951 poem “Harlem” from which the title was taken, wrote in his Chicago Defender review: “At the Blackstone Theater in Chicago recently I saw a play that bids fair to become a milestone in Negro dramatic art. It is A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, a young Chicago writer, who knows the Southside whereof she writes. Written by a Negro playwright, acted by Negro actors (with one exception), and directed by a high-talented Negro director, it is a play of which not only colored playgoers, but all lovers of the best in American theater can be proud.” —ERIC M. GLOVER
1989 2004 Production at the Royale Theater, New York, directed by Kenny Leon and starring Sean (“Diddy”/“P Diddy”/ “Puff Daddy”/ “Puffy”) Combs.
Airing of the American Playhouse episode, directed by Bill Duke and starring Danny Glover.
2014 Production at the Ethel Barrymore Theater, New York, directed by Kenny Leon and starring Denzel Washington. Awarded the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play.
1 1: Delroy Lindo and Troy Streater in the Yale Repertory Theatre production in 1983, directed by Dennis Scott, Photo by William B. Carter. 2: Audra McDonald and Sean Combs in the 2004 Royale Theater production. Photo by Joan Marcus. 3: Denzel Washington and LaTanya Richardson in the 2014 revival at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. Photo by Brigitte Lacomb/AP.
FOR THE LOVE OF CULTURE;
Diaspora Identity from Africa to America A Raisin in the Sun is powerful for its depiction of a Black family, but what makes this a truly brilliant play is Lorraine Hansberry’s ability to capture the historical context of this Black family in Chicago during the 1950s. While Hansberry explores many subjects in A Raisin in the Sun, one prominent theme is Pan-Africanism. Hansberry uses Beneatha’s choice between two men to stage a larger ideological choice between assimilation and Pan-Africanism. Pan-Africanism is a worldwide intellectual, cultural, and political movement that aims to unite descendants of the African diaspora: communities of people who are of African descent, primarily, but not limited to, those who were dispersed as a result of the Transatlantic slave trade and colonization. When the play was written, Pan-Africanism was still a radical movement that often clashed with the then-dominant idea of assimilation. Beneatha refers to an assimilationist as “someone who is willing to give up his own culture and submerge himself completely in the dominant, and in this case oppressive culture.” Assimilation was seen as a safer way to integrate into society and often presented as a “guaranteed” means of social mobility. In the play, Beneatha has two suitors: George Murchison, an upper-class Black American, and Joseph Asagai, an international intellectual from Nigeria. Beneatha’s romantic relationship with both men shows the intricate relationship Black people globally experienced with identity. Pan-Africanism was not a new concept for Hansberry as she was writing Raisin. In 1951, before she set out to write this groundbreaking play, Hansberry worked as a writer for the Pan-Africanist newspaper Freedom. There she exchanged ideas with other Black intellectuals including Paul Robeson, an entertainer, athlete, and activist, and W. E. B. Du Bois, the Black civil rights activist and author. As a writer at Freedom, she closely followed the Mau Mau uprisings in Kenya—a grassroots anti-colonialst effort led by Jomo Kenyatta that later helped the country gain independence in 1963. It is believed that Lorraine Hansberry wrote the character Beneatha in the image of her own beliefs and struggle with identity as an artist-activist who had championed PanAfricanism and women’s rights. After the first World War, W. E. B. Du Bois had led the first-ever Pan-African Conference in 1919. Other prominent participants joined him in Paris to strategize demands for freedom for Africa’s colonies and a greater voice for the African diaspora. Several world leaders, including Kenyatta (Kenya), Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana), and Marcus Garvey (Jamaica), were inspired by this movement and began
forming coalitions soon after with meetings in Manchester, London, and New York. Hansberry’s time with Du Bois at Freedom influenced her writing greatly. She even refers to Jomo Kenyatta in A Raisin in the Sun when Walter Lee and Beneatha dance together in the living room. Hansberry plants these historical figures in the play to show Black Americans’ awareness of the Pan-African movement. Other political leaders embraced Pan-Africanism both in America and abroad. Kwame Nkrumah was teaching at Lincoln University, a historically Black university in Pennsylvania, when he was first introduced to the concept. He led a Pan-African movement that later propelled his home country, Ghana, to independence in 1957. Nkrumah would often visit Harlem and Philadelphia during his time in this country and was inspired by the sense of community pride there. In 1958, Nkrumah hosted the first All-African Peoples’ Conference (AAPC) in Accra, Ghana. The conference invited delegates of political movements from other independent countries such as Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Liberia, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, and Sudan. These transcontinental convenings facilitated an exchange of ideas that called for unity of African descendants worldwide. In A Raisin in the Sun, when Joseph invites Beneatha to “come home with [him]—…to Africa,” he presents her with an opportunity not only to embrace her identity as an African descendant, but to live it by leaving the country where she was born. Meanwhile in the United States, Marcus Garvey called for a one-party state for African descendants, a doctrine now known as “Garveyism.” His organization, the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), envisioned an exodus of Black Americans to Africa in hopes of encouraging global black commerce. While Garvey’s vision did not result in an exodus, other movements, notably the Civil Rights Movement, would continue to call for unified rights for the African Diaspora through coalition building. In the 1950s, Malcolm X would rise as a prominent leader for Pan-Africanism and the Civil Rights Movement through the Nation of Islam. The Black Panther Party of the 1970s was a Black Nationalist organization that continued to call for basic human rights for Black Americans. Through free breakfast programs and health clinics, the Black Panther Party established grass roots initiatives as a blueprint for their Ten Point Program of beliefs and demands. In the heat of Pan-Africanism, Joseph Asagai’s desire to return home to Nigeria after attending school in the United States recalls Kwame Nkrumah’s trajectory. Asagai looks to return home to bring about change in his own nation.
For the Love of Culture: Diaspora Identity from Africa to America He seeks to rebuild Nigeria by building a global Black commerce as Garvey hoped to do. Asagai acknowledges the effects of colonization. His home country, Nigeria, did not establish independence from British rule until 1960. Premiering in 1959, A Raisin in the Sun embraces the tensions that Africans in America faced in a quest for their home countries’ independence while living abroad. But all Black Americans did not understand or embrace Pan-Africanism. A Raisin in the Sun takes place at a time when segregation laws were still in effect. The Civil Rights Movement in the United States was building momentum even as independence movements bubbled up for African countries. Globally, African descendants still faced discrimination and lived under oppressive colonial leadership. In the play, George Murchison is more concerned with getting “a degree,” not seeing the benefit of espousing his African heritage. He is dismissive of Pan-Africanism because he believes African culture is nothing more than meaningless songs and poor housing infrastructure. Of course, African culture is much more than this, but these prejudices among diasporic people are the ironic byproducts of colonization. George is much more comfortable with assimilation as a Black American because his access to an upper-class lifestyle shields him from some of the everyday ills of discrimination. Beneatha’s choice at the end of the play may surprise you, but her relationship with both men highlights the intimate and complex relationship with identity shared by many Black Americans during the 1950s. Pan-Africanism is rooted in love—love of country, love of identity, love of culture. It’s no coincidence that Hansberry uses a romantic relationship to connect these themes. —ASHLEY M. THOMAS
Pan-Africanism Today Today, Pan-Africanism takes shape in multiple ways and is more widely embedded throughout the African diaspora, especially throughout pop culture. From Nigerian American artist Jidenna’s 85 to Africa to Marvel’s Black Panther, Pan-Africanism is a still a proud global movement for the African diaspora that seeks to unite the ever-changing culture of African descendants. Beyoncé herself calls her new musical release, The Lion King: The Gift, a “love letter to Africa” while Ghana celebrated its second “Afrochella” festival in December—a Pan-African music and arts festival similar to Coachella that uplifts cultural solidarity across the African diaspora. Pan Africanism is a celebration of culture and politics.
How Housing Discrimina Hansberr y v. Lee
My father was typical of a generation of Negroes who believed that the “American way” could successfully be made to work to democratize the United States. Thus, twenty-five years ago, he spent a small personal fortune, his considerable talents, and many years of his life fighting, in association with NAACP attorneys, Chicago’s “restrictive covenants” in one of this nation’s ugliest ghettos. That fight also required that our family occupy the disputed property in a hellishly hostile “white neighborhood” in which, literally, howling mobs surrounded our house. One of their missiles almost took the life of the then eightyear-old signer of this letter. My memories of this “correct” way of fighting white supremacy in America included being spat at, cursed and pummeled in the daily trek to and from school. And I also remember my desperate and courageous mother, patrolling our house all night with a loaded German Luger, doggedly guarding her four children, while my father fought the respectable part of the battle in the Washington court. The fact that my father and the NAACP “won” a Supreme Court decision, in a now famous case which bears his name in the law books, is— ironically—the sort of “progress” our satisfied friends allude to when they presume to deride the more radical means of struggle. The cost, in emotional turmoil, time and money, which led to my father’s early death as a permanently embittered exile in a foreign country when he saw that after such sacrificial efforts the Negroes of Chicago were as ghetto-locked as ever, does not seem to figure in their calculations. —Lorraine Hansberry, Letter to the Editor of The New York Times, April 23, 1964
ation Locked the Door to the American Dream As Lorraine Hansberry recalls in this letter, when her family moved into the all-white Washington Park neighborhood in 1937, neighbors besieged their new home. A brick thrown through their window narrowly missed the then eight-yearold Lorraine, but it left its mark nonetheless. One white neighbor, Anna Lee, sued Hansberry’s father for violating the area’s restrictive covenant: a legally binding agreement among local white landowners that prohibited selling property to Black families. The Illinois Supreme Court upheld the restrictive covenant and ruled to evict the Hansberry family. When Hansberry and the NAACP appealed to the United States Supreme Court, the ruling was reversed—but only based on a technicality. Restrictive covenants remained legal for almost a decade after Hansberry v. Lee, making it a landmark but partial victory. In 1946, Hansberry’s father died suddenly on a trip to Mexico, and she blamed the stress of Hansberry v. Lee for his untimely death. Hansberry’s experience inspired A Raisin in the Sun and still urges us to examine how, despite the monumental efforts of the Hansberries and others like them, Black residents were “as ghetto-locked as ever.”
Housing Discrimination in Chicago
In the South, Jim Crow laws enforced segregation, while in the North, the law administered racism more insidiously. A powerful system of both legal and private housing discrimination confined Black families to so-called “Black Belt” neighborhoods like Bronzeville and cut them off from opportunities for home ownership. As historians Hana Layson and Kenneth Warren explain, restrictive covenants were one legal form of discrimination: “contractual agreements among property owners that prohibited the sale or lease of any part of a building to specific groups of people.” While uncommon in the 1920s, restrictive covenants proliferated as white homeowners shunned the Great Migration of Southern African Americans arriving in Northern cities. By 1940, 80% of property in Chicago was under a racially restrictive covenant. But redlining blocked Black homebuyers from many, if not all, of that remaining 20%. Redlining began in 1933 as part of the New Deal. The federal government sponsored an initiative called the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC), which refinanced home mortgages with a mission of preventing foreclosure for families struggling during the Great Depression. The HOLC made home ownership achievable for more Americans by offering affordable mortgages with longer repayment periods and lower interest rates.
In order to determine who would benefit from this assistance, the HOLC assessed the creditworthiness of properties based on their neighborhood demographics, notably race. They produced maps that divided “A-grade” neighborhoods, where favorable mortgages were granted, from “D-grade” neighborhoods, color-coded or outlined in red and judged too “high-risk” for investment. This practice, now known as “redlining,” designated anywhere Black people lived as “hazardous.” Redlining and restrictive covenants conspired to exclude Black families from home ownership and intensify segregation. Even previously diverse neighborhoods disbanded because the government gave white families an easier, subsidized road to home ownership—one that led far away from any “undesirable population or infiltration of it,” as the HOLC called Black residents. Richard Rothstein’s popular 2017 book The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, offers a more comprehensive history of how policy-makers deliberately created segregation. When the federal government created the HOLC and courts upheld restrictive covenants, the law left Black residents with few options and thus vulnerable to further discrimination and exploitation in the private sector. In Bronzeville, landlords subdivided single family apartments into several tiny, squalid “kitchenettes,” and then overcharged Black families to rent them. Denied HOLC subsidies and legitimate mortgages, Black homebuyers were ushered toward “unscrupulous lenders who took them for money and for sport,” writes Ta-Nehisi Coates in his influential essay, “The Case for Reparations.” Predatory realtors “would sell homes at inflated prices and then evict families who could not pay— taking their down payment and their monthly installments as profit. Then they’d bring in another black family, rinse, and repeat,” Coates writes. Even Black residents who made it through this lending labyrinth found that because the HOLC “D-grade” repelled any new investment, the property they invested in quickly lost value. The impact of both legal and private housing discrimination cannot be overstated. Home ownership is a cornerstone of the American Dream because it is “the most significant means of intergenerational wealth-building in the United States,” according to the redlining study “Mapping Inequality.” Owning a home generates and protects wealth: because homeowners can borrow money with their home as collateral, they can weather times of financial scarcity without falling into poverty, or they might fund education, entrepreneurship, or retirement. Then, they pass on that wealth and security to their children. Today’s wealth inequality is yesterday’s redline, restrictive covenant, or brick through the window.
How Housing Discrimination Locked the Door to the American Dream
Housing Discrimination in Our Community
Racially restrictive covenants were outlawed by the federal Fair Housing Act of 1968, but their legacy persists—through long-lingering effects as well as housing discrimination still practiced today. DataHaven is a local organization dedicated to “collecting, interpreting and sharing public data” for the benefit of community life here in Connecticut. In their 2019 “Greater New Haven Community Index,” based on a comprehensive study of both quantitative data and in-person interviews, they assess wellbeing and life-satisfaction across different neighborhoods and demographics. Their data illustrates how discrimination and segregation continue to fracture our communities and affect our lives. Lorraine Hansberry imagined the Younger family navigating housing discrimination in 1959 Chicago, but how can we see these stories in our own hometowns today? DataHaven compared contemporary housing statistics to the New Haven maps the HOLC redlined in the 1930s and found HOLC designations became neighborhoods’ destinies. DataHaven found “high rates of homeownership in higher-grade areas—79 percent in Greater New Haven’s A-grade areas compared to 44 percent overall and just 34 percent in D-grade areas. The areas are also racially segregated, and highergrade areas were predominantly white in 2010. Seventy-eight percent of people in A-grade areas were white, compared to just 28 percent in D-grade areas.” Individual homebuyers’ experiences and opportunities also continue to mirror the inequities established in decades past. DataHaven observed that high-cost mortgages, whose higher interest rates make them more expensive, disproportionately burden Black and Latinx homebuyers: “in Greater New Haven in 2017, just 4 percent of white borrowers received high-cost mortgages, compared to 13 percent of Latino borrowers and 15 percent of Black borrowers. [...] These loans are often concentrated in areas with more non-white residents”—which harkens back to redlining. Above: A portion of the 1939–1940 Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) map for Chicago showing graded neighborhoods. Opposite page: Map of New Haven and graphs courtesy of DataHaven, from the Greater New Haven Community Index.
The patterns in 1930s redlinging maps are still present today. HOLC redlined areas of New Haven and neighboring towns, 1937.
Whether they buy or rent their homes, residents of Greater New Haven desperately need more affordable housing; DataHaven found two out of every five households must spend more than the recommended 30 percent of their income on housing. Government funding can help by encouraging the development of more affordable housing, but zoning regulations almost always hedge affordable housing within the old red lines. Government-assisted affordable housing is “disproportionately located in lowincome neighborhoods and communities of color, further reinforcing social and economic segregation.” Just as A Raisin in the Sun’s Karl Lindner claims he is looking out for everyone’s best interest, this seemingly benevolent government assistance often doubles down on segregation. Segregation causes disparate qualities of life, perhaps most starkly illustrated through life expectancy. In New Haven’s low-income neighborhoods, like Newhallville, the life expectancy is just 71 years, while the citywide average is 78.2 years, and in wealthier, whiter towns it’s even higher, up to 83.4 years in Orange. As Ta-Nehisi Coates writes, “with segregation, with the isolation of the injured and the robbed, comes the concentration of disadvantage [...]; the concentration of poverty has been paired with a concentration of melanin. The resulting conflagration has been devastating.” —MOLLY FITZMAURICE
Homeownership is still low in lower-grade areas
High-grade areas are still predominantly white
A Raisin in the Sun ends with the Younger family poised to move into an all-white neighborhood, despite their neighbors’ attempts to keep them out, which will likely soon escalate into violence. Why do the Youngers choose to leave their “Black Belt” neighborhood for their new home? Why does Lorraine Hansberry—who could have continued the play, and drawn from her own experience, to showcase the hostility the Youngers will face—choose to end their story when she does?
YALE REPERTORY THEATRE James Bundy Artistic Director
WILL POWER! IS SUPPORTED BY
Victoria Nolan Managing Director
STUDY GUIDE CONTRIBUTORS Eric M. Glover Production Dramaturg for A Raisin in the Sun Assistant Professor Adjunct of Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism, Yale School of Drama Ashley M. Thomas Production Dramaturg for A Raisin in the Sun Yale School of Drama, MFA ’22
EDITORS Amy Boratko Literary Manager
George A. & Grace L. Long Foundation, Bank of America, N.A., Co-Trustee
WILL POWER! PERFORMANCE DATES:
Molly FitzMaurice Literary Fellow Yale School of Drama, MFA ’19
GRAPHIC DESIGNER Marguerite Elliott Publications Manager
SPECIAL THANKS Mark Abraham, Carl Cofield, DataHaven, Jennifer Kiger, Julia Miller, Steven Padla, Camille Seaberry, Catherine Sheehy, Nahuel Telleria
Tuesday, March 31 Wednesday, April 1 Thursday, April 2 Friday, April 3 All WILL POWER! shows are at 10:15AM.
A Raisin in the Sun runs March 13 through April 4.
Cover illustration by Paul Evan Jeffrey. Inside cover: Lorraine Hansberry photo, c. 1960, Gelatin silver print, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution © David Attie
YA L ERE P.OR G 203.432.1234 YALEREP@YALE.EDU