Lorraine Hansberry’s groundbreaking play, A Raisin in the Sun (1959), tells the story of the Youngers, three generations of an African American family living together in a small apartment on Chicago’s South Side. Set in the postwar era, the play follows the family’s struggles with poverty and their decision to move to a single-family home in the all-white neighborhood of Clybourne Park. It explores themes of discrimination, assimilation, black pride, gender, and sacrifice; its title is a reference to the Langston Hughes poem, “Harlem” (“A Dream Deferred”). Hansberry based this work on her family’s own experiences with housing discrimination and racially motivated restrictive covenants in Chicago’s Washington Park neighborhood, litigated in the U.S. Supreme Court case, Hansberry v. Lee (1940). When A Raisin in the Sun debuted on Broadway in 1959, it brought the daily struggles of African American life to the overwhelmingly white Broadway audience, while also attracting an unprecedented African American audience. In its own day, the play won the New York Drama Critics’ Circle award for best play of 1959 and was nominated for a number of Tony Awards. It has since become one of the most frequently taught, most enduring works of American drama. This primary source set includes photographs, documents, and news footage that provide context for the challenges characters face in the play.
Additional resources for research
Lorraine Hansberry: Her Chicago law story, The University of Chicago Library.
Racial Restrictive Covenants, Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project.
A Raisin in the Sun Revisited: Lorraine Hansberry, PBS LearningMedia.