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'A Raisin in the Sun' Playwright Honored With Plaque at Former Village Home

By Maya Rajamani | October 18, 2017 12:24pm
 The townhouse at 112 Waverly Place that Lorraine Hansberry (inset) once owned.
The townhouse at 112 Waverly Place that Lorraine Hansberry (inset) once owned.
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DNAinfo/Maya Rajamani; Changing Perceptions Theater (inset)

GREENWICH VILLAGE — When Lorraine Hansberry’s play “A Raisin in the Sun” debuted on Broadway in 1959, author James Baldwin said he had “never in [his] life seen so many black people in the theater.”

“... [N]ever before, in the entire history of the American theater, had so much of the truth of black people’s lives been seen on the stage,” Baldwin wrote. “Black people had ignored the theater because the theater had always ignored them.”

On Monday, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and the Historic Landmarks Preservation Center unveiled a plaque honoring Hansberry outside the Greenwich Village townhouse she once owned.  

Hansberry
(DNAinfo/Maya Rajamani)

Hansberry — the first black woman to have a play performed on Broadway — bought 112 Waverly Place, between Washington Square West and Sixth Avenue, in 1960, five years before her death at the age of 34, said HLPC chairwoman Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel. 

“This afternoon it is our privilege to celebrate her life and work,” Diamonstein-Spielvogel said. “The sweeping impact of her work cannot be overstated.”

Hansberry “was a trailblazer in so many ways,” GVSHP executive director Andrew Berman added. “Her life was much too short, but it’s amazing what she was able to accomplish.”

Born in Chicago in 1930, Hansberry based "A Raisin in the Sun" on her family's experiences with racial segregation, Diamonstein Spielvogel said. 

After moving to New York City in the 1950s, Hansberry attended The New School and started writing for Freedom — a black newspaper published by civil-rights activist Paul Robeson, Diamonstein-Spielvogel noted.

Later that decade, Hansberry joined the Daughters of Bilitis — a lesbian-rights group — and wrote letters for their magazine focused on feminism and homophobia, the HLPC chair added. 

“Lorraine Hansberry was a genius — prescient and eloquent on the shortcomings of our country in the 1950s and '60s,” journalist Carol Jenkins said at the plaque unveiling. “We really, really need her now — on race, on LGBTQ issues, on war.”

After Hansberry passed away, Baldwin noted that the burden she felt to eliminate injustice and carry out change “may have been part of her early undoing,” Berman said.

“She really dedicated her life to change and to transformation,” he said. “Hopefully today we carry that spirit forward a little bit further.”