‘Raisin in the Sun’ playing in Jackson

Published 12:13 am Friday, October 26, 2007

“A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965) has been playing Wednesday through this Sunday at the New Stage Theatre at 1100 Carlisle St. off Fortification Avenue in Jackson.

Ms. Hansberry’s play received the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for the best play of the 1958-59 season. The play is based loosely on the situation faced by Ms. Hansberry’s father, Carl Hansberry, in his fight for fair housing in Chicago in the late 1930s.

Carl Hansberry grew up in nearby Gloster, with his older brother, William Leon Hansberry, who some consider to be the father of African studies in this country.

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Both brothers attended Alcorn’s preparatory school, and Ms. Hansberry’s father, Carl Hansberry, attended Alcorn College. The brothers’ father, Eldon Hayes Hansberry, was a graduate of Alcorn, but died at 32 years of age after teaching in Gloster and briefly at Alcorn. He is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Gloster.

The Hansberry family home was at the entrance of today’s John James Audobon Foundation Arboretum in Gloster, the largest arboretum in Mississippi. Arboretum Road behind the Georgia Pacific plant there was once called the Hansberry-Nichols Road.

Eldon Hansberry’s granddaughter, Lorriane Hansberry, grew up on the south side of Chicago and remembered vividly the tribulations of her father, Carl Hansberry, when he unsuccessfully attempted to move his family into an all-white neighborhood.

In fact, her father was successful in winning a fair-housing case which he took to the United States Supreme Court in 1940 (Hansberry v. Lee), but he was still prevented from moving into that neighborhood.

Lorraine’s father had been dubbed “the kitchenette king” because of his efforts as a real estate developer in renovating apartment buildings in Chicago. He died in Mexico City.

Lorraine Hansberry was also very active in the civil rights movement, especially SNCC, as she coined the phrase “to be young, gifted and black.” She died of cancer in 1965 while another of her plays, The Sign in Sidney Bernstein’s Window, ran for 101 nights until her death brought down the final curtain.

Her uncle, William Leo Hansberry, who taught at Howard University, died the same year. The Hansberry College of African Studies at Nsukka, Nigeria, was named after him by Nigeria’s first President, Nnamdi Azikiwe, who had been his student.

Oh yes, now that you know the rest of the story, what about the play? It originally starred Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee and Claudia McNeil. It later was made into a motion picture.

Tickets are $22 and may be obtained by calling 601-948-3531, or by logging onto www.newstagetheatre.com.

Performances are 7:30 p.m. through Saturday, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 28.

David S. Dreyer is a local historian.