News & Articles

The House Hansberry Built

by Artistic Intern <b>Evan Garrett</b>

Lorraine Hansberry’s classic American play, A Raisin in the Sun, was the inspiration for Bruce Norris’s new work Clybourne Park. While A Raisin in the Sun is a dramatic fiction, it is based on Hansberry’s real-life experience as a child, when her family moved in to Chicago’s segregated Washington Park neighborhood. Restrictive covenants—realty laws expressively demanding or forbidding certain acts of new leasers—have dominated Chicago’s history. In the 1930s, Washington Park’s race-based covenants expressly forbade black lessees in its southern subdivision. When the African-American Hansberry family purchased and moved into their home at 6140 S. Rhodes Ave., the Woodlawn Property Owner’s Association filed claim, noting their disallowance of black tenants. Not only did the Owners’ Association, led by Anna M. Lee, file for court, but repeated instances of violence haunted the Hansberrys. Two disgruntled neighbors threw bricks through the family’s windows within a week of their moving in—causing police to be called on guard for the next several months. Tensions continually grew, forcing the Hansberry parents to carry a loaded pistol in the home. Carl Hansberry, Lorraine’s father, fought a three-year legal battle culminating in the important Supreme Court decision Hansberry v. Lee to acquire their home on the South Side. The decision led the way for the disbandment of restrictive covenants based on race. On February 10, 2010, the Chicago City Council’s Committee on Historical Landmarks Preservation officially designated the Lorraine Hansberry House as a historical landmark.