Plaque Sponsor

BMO Harris Bank

1930 - 1965

"A status not freely chosen or entered into by an individual or a group is necessarily one of oppression and the oppressed are by their nature (i.e., oppressed) forever in ferment and agitation against their condition and what they understand to be their oppressors. If not by overt rebellion or revolution, then in the thousand and one ways they will devise with and without consciousness to alter their condition"

- Lorraine Hansberry

Born the daughter of a middle class Chicago businessman, Lorraine Hansberry’s life in many ways mirrored her art and dedication to social justice. After moving into an all-white Chicago suburb in 1937, the family was met with physical violence. Rather than give into the hostility they sued and, in 1940, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled they had a right to remain in their home. In 1950 Hansberry moved to New York City, where she eventually married Jewish songwriter Robert Nemiroff, whom she quietly divorced in 1962. Her play ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ (1959) was the first play written by an African American to be produced on Broadway. It would go on to win the New York Drama Critics Circle Award – an honor which Hansberry was both the first African American – and the youngest person – to receive. The play, which dealt in human terms with the serious and comic problems of a black family in modern America, was a major stimulus to the 1960s African-American Theater movement. A civil rights activist her entire life, Hansberry began identifying herself as a feminist and lesbian in the 1950s. She applauded the growing West Coast homophile movement and was one of the first members of the New York chapter of the groundbreaking lesbian organization, the Daughters of Bilitis. She wrote several essays for its newsletter The Ladder under the pen-name “L.H.N.” proffering that “…homosexual persecution and condemnation has at its roots not only social ignorance, but a philosophically active anti-feminist dogma.” Hansberry linked the struggle for gay rights, rights for people of color, and rights for women long before such terms as ‘homophobia’ and ‘feminism’ had come into the vernacular. She died from cancer in 1965 at the age of 34. Her ex-husband assembled posthumous collections of her unfinished works, letters, and diary entries – most notably To Be Young Gifted and Black (1969), whose title was drawn from the last speech Hansberry made to young winners of a United Negro College Fund writing contest.

Plaque Sponsor

BMO Harris Bank

Lesson Plan


Gender Female

Sexual Orientation Lesbian

Gender Identity Cisgender

Ethnicity African American Black

Faith Construct Atheist

Nations Affiliated United States

Era/Epoch Civil Rights Movement (1954-1968) Cold War (1945-1991)

Field(s) of Contribution

Advocacy & Activism

Art, Music, Literature & Theater



Media & Communications

Social Justice

Social Sciences


US History

Commemorations & Honors

First African American Playwright and Youngest Person to Win the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for A Raisin in the Sun (1959)

Tony Award Nominee for A Raisin in the Sun (1960)

Lorraine Hansberry Theatre of San Francisco Founded (1981)

Posthumous Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame Inductee (1999)

Scholar Molefi Kete Asante Named Hansberry of the 100 Greatest African Americans (2002)

Posthumous Chicago Literary Hall of Fame Inductee (2010)

Posthumous American Theatre Hall of Fame Inductee (2013)

Posthumous National Women's Halls of Fame Inductee (2017)


Related Videos


Original Biography Author
Victor Salvo
Biography Edited By
Owen Keehnen
Biography Vetted, Edited, and Certified By
Dr. Robin Mitchell DePaul University Dept. of Gender Studies
Image Rights Usage Granted By
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Image Source for Bronze Casting
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell