Why the 60th Anniversary of Lorraine Hansberry's 'A Raisin in the Sun' Resonates for Me in a Personal Way
Today marks the 60th anniversary of the Broadway premiere of Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun." A major American classic by any standard, it is also the first Broadway-produced play by an African-American woman. It's a milestone that remains as relevant on March 11, 2019 as it was in 1959.
Several years ago, a Seattle newspaper asked me to review a staging at Seattle Rep, one of the finest regional theaters in the country. A lifelong theater buff, I was thrilled when the editor promised free tickets and a stipend in exchange for my opinion.
Whenever anyone remounts a beloved classic of film or stage, you hope they won't ruin it. So it was with a mixture of anticipation and dread that I made my way to Seattle Center for the opening. But I needn't have worried. As you might expect from a Tony-winning outfit like Seattle Rep, the production was excellent. Although I hadn't seen the play for quite a while, its impact remained undeniable. The play resonates for anyone with a human heart, but it's especially meaningful to African Americans because it takes a hard look at a family divided by conflicting dreams and the internal and external pressures that challenge and shape the black experience to this very day.
But Hansberry's play also has a special place in my personal memory because my brother, Kurt Hill, performed the role of Walter Lee Younger (the Sidney Poitier character) when my alma mater, Drexel Catholic High School, produced the play during the heyday of the Civil Rights Movement, about a year before the Voting Rights Act became law.
Four Must-Read Reveals on the Shocking Rise of Voter Suppression - And a Six-Point Checklist for Dealing with It
When Jimmy Carter called on Georgia’s GOP Gubernatorial candidate (Brian Kemp) to resign his position as Secretary of State in light of numerous voter-suppression complaints, you didn’t really think that would happen, did you? (Read the full text of Carter's letter.)
But at least President Carter focused much-needed attention on Georgia’s voter-suppression issue. When I saw him trending on Twitter one week before the election, I also noticed that the Megyn Kelly blackface story had waned considerably (down to just 30 tweets per hour).
I’m glad Carter managed to push Kelly to the back pages where she belongs. As Toni Morrison has pointed out, racism is a distraction. Voter suppression, on the other hand, though racially driven, is a form of oppression. It’s a blatant attempt to keep minorities from casting ballots. What follows is fact-based information on the shocking extent of the issue and how to deal with it if you encounter it on Election Day.
1) Voter Suppression Tactics in the Age of Trump
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, ninety-nine bills designed to diminish voter access were introduced last year in thirty-one state legislatures. Many of the recent Republican-led efforts stem from the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby v. Holder. In an opinion that eviscerated the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that discrimination still exists, but not sufficiently to warrant the “extraordinary” remediation measures that the act imposed on the states of the former Confederacy. (More via The New Yorker)
“Oh my God, I think I might have bought drugs from this guy back in high school."
“But you just told the court you don’t know him,” a woman sitting next to me says.
“I didn’t remember it at the time. But yeah, I used to sell drugs when I was in high school. My boyfriend and I used to go to that very apartment building to get ours, and I’m thinking, yeah, I’ve probably bought from this guy before. He does look kind of familiar.”
We are on a jury panel. Going through the process known as “voir dire.” The guy she’s talking about is the defendant in a drug-trafficking case. Cocaine and marijuana. Five or six other charges too, all drug related. Did the judge also mention something about carrying a weapon? I think so.
It should probably not matter that it’s a young white woman privately confessing to those around her that she bought and sold drugs back in high school, which by the look of her could only have been three or four years ago. But in this instance her race matters a great deal.
A Coincidence of Strange: Is There Synchronicity in the Recent Alignment of Luther Strange, Doctor Strange, Dr. Strangelove & Taking a Knee?
Synchronicity is the word Carl Jung coined to describe meaningful coincidence. In his lexicon, coincidence was meaningful when contents from your unconscious mind (dreams) lined up in an unmissable and non-causal way with events in your waking life. Bottom line: When this happens, you should pay attention. The Universe may be trying to tell you something.
Perhaps you already know that a new edition of Lawrence Otis Graham’s provocative 2009 bestseller, Our Kind of People, was published not too long ago. The book deals with class distinctions among African-Americans and the issue of “passing for white.” I learned about the updated edition from my daily Delancey Place newsletter, but I remember the original book well. It resonated with me. And still does. Not only because I grew up hearing the term passant blanc (passing for white, passer pour le blanc) from my New Orleans relatives, but also because I lived in Atlanta when segregation obscured the fact that black communities were often divided along class lines.
I like big books, and I cannot lie. My background includes talk radio, newspapers and TV news. I've hosted a morning-drive classical music program on the California coast and published nationally in Reader's Digest, the Christian Science Monitor, and Playboy. I've won awards for my journalism and my fiction. One of my essays even made it into an anthology for college English courses. For real? Yes, for real.
If you’re reading this website, think of me as a troubadour standing on the street corner, strumming a guitar and singing a few songs. Not everyone who comes this way is able to make contribution. But if you’re one of the passers-by who can, then feel free to drop a little spare change in my hat by clicking either the Donate or the Become a Patron button below.