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.
8 thoughts on “Lorraine Hansberry Lived in Croton!”
I love reading your history blogs about important people who happened to live in the community! It makes them more available to us to know them, even now.
Hello Carolyn, it seems we have all been trolling Lorraine these past few days. Thanks for posting this! Loved the documentary. Was hoping to run into the people who bought her house. Glad you literally did! A close friend of mine is dealing with Hansberry’s estate on behalf of a large museum. And just two days ago I met someone who was in the film crew for the documentary, which must have been filmed in the house prior to it being sold. I write and post some historical croton tidbits here and there on our fb page The (Greater) Croton Songbook. Hope to meet you in person one of these days. I live on Journey’s End Road and really enjoyed what you wrote about the neighborhood. Alas I have terrible knees and am unable to run, but I do walk around the neighborhood.
Sent using OWA for iPhone, please forgive typos. ________________________________
Hi Caroline, Finally got a chance to read this post – thank you so much for the shout out! See you on Saturday morning:) Corita
Thanks for the post. It helped me find Lorraine Hansberry’s grave and house. One correction: Hansberry did not move to Croton “with her husband Robert Nemiroff.” She divorced him because she was a lesbian, moved to her own apartment in Greenwich Village, then sold that apartment and bought the house in Croton. Please correct this.
Dear Velina: Thanks for your comment. Yes, Lorraine Hansberry and Bob Nemiroff did get divorced, but according to my research, they purchased the house in Croton together in 1962. I got this information from the Lorraine Hansberry Trust (https://www.lhlt.org/gallery/croton-hudson) as well as Nemiroff’s NYT obituary (https://www.nytimes.com/1991/07/19/obituaries/robert-nemiroff-61-champion-of-lorraine-hansberry-s-works.html) Do you have other sources that support your timeline? I am always willing to update my posts if new information comes my way, so please enlighten me further! Thanks, Caroline
Hi–Sorry, I did not see that my previous comment had posted, and there is now a somewhat redundant one. They may have purchased the house together, but it is incorrect to state that “she moved there with her husband.” The PBS documentary mentions her lesbianism. There are also a number of other sources on this, many of them Google-able. The most recent is perhaps Imani Perry’s book.
Thank you for this post. I write about Lorraine Hansberry, and your blog helped me find her house and grave. One correction: she did not move to Croton “with her husband Robert Nemiroff.” She separated from him because she was a lesbian, bought her own apartment in Greenwich Village, and then sold that apartment and moved to Croton. At some point during this process they also divorced. I believe this information is presented in the recent PBS documentary.