Do you know who she is? Lorraine Hansberry? She was an African-American playwright whose most famous play, “A Raisin in the Sun” opened on Broadway in 1959.
Copy of Playbill from the original Broadway production on display at the the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC.
If you weren’t forced to read the play in high school or college, you’ve probably run across it somehow — the play was revived in 2014 with Denzel Washington.
Copy of Playbill from the 2014 revival on display at the the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC.
There’s also a movie of it out there, starring Sidney Poitier. It was pretty groundbreaking for its time.
Here’s the cover of the play, with a photo of Lorraine Hansberry taken in Croton-on-Hudson:
Anyway, today I had one of those moments where the universe creates perfect synchronicity, and it all had to do with Lorraine and Croton and running.
At the first waterstop this morning (the Taconic Road Runners thoughtfully put out water and Gatorade every Saturday morning for the group run ), I asked my friend Fran if she would be up for changing up our route a little to run past what I thought was Lorraine Hansberry’s house. “It’s on Bridge Road,” I said, “Just down the hill from the Danish Home.”
“Bridge Lane,” corrected another woman at the waterstop. “It’s Bridge Lane — I know, because I live there!”
“Oh wow, what a coincidence!” I said, while guzzling icy-cold orange Gatorade. “Do you happen to know where Lorraine Hansberry’s house is, then? I think I’ve found the address but I’m not sure.”
“Well, funny you should ask – I live in her house.”
I was floored. What? WHAT? No way! I’ve never seen this runner lady before and yet there she was, overhearing my conversation with Fran and living in Lorraine Hansberry’s house!
We chatted for a bit, and then ran off in opposite directions, but we had her blessing to go and take a gander at her house. (To be honest, I’d done a drive by on Friday and snapped this picture with my phone.)
Now, according to a recent PBS American Masters documentary titled “Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart,” Hansberry supposedly called her home in Croton “Chitterling Heights.” All sorts of literati came up from New York City to visit. (Croton has long been a haven for artists and activists – Lillian Nordica, Isadora Duncan, Gloria Swanson, John Reed, Max Eastman, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Lorraine Hansberry are just a few who settled here. Don’t worry, I’ll be running by their houses and blogging about them too!)
Hansberry and her husband Robert Nemiroff moved to Croton in about 1961. Not only were they both artists (he wrote “Cindy, oh Cindy,” a Top 40 song, among other things. Here’s his obituary for more), but both were activists, especially dedicated to causes that promoted racial and sexual equality. Fun fact – in 1964, Hansberry was integral in organizing and participating in one of the first fundraisers in the New York City area for the civil rights movement, held at Croton’s Temple Israel. (The 1963 Birmingham church bombings catalyzed many on the East Coast.) She was the MC of the event, and brought in other like-minded celebrities, including Ossie Davis, James Baldwin, and Judy Collins. They raised over $11,000 for organizations like the Congress of Racial Equality – Freedom Summer voter registration project (CORE), the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the NAACP.
Some of the money raised went towards the purchase of a Ford station wagon for the Freedom Riders Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney, men who were subsequently murdered in Philadelphia, Mississippi. (More info here and here.)
If you’re so inclined, here’s a link to the PBS documentary. Fast forward to about 1:19 in if you want to learn more about Hansberry’s Croton years and the fate of that Ford station wagon . . .)
Tragically, Hansberry died in 1965 at the age of 34 from pancreatic cancer. She is buried in Croton-on-Hudson in the Bethel Cemetery.