Lorraine Vivian Hansberry, born May 19, 1930, was an award-winning playwright and activist. Her best known work, A Raisin in the Sun, was inspired by her family’s battle against racial and housing segregation in Chicago. She would have been 88 today.
Hansberry was the youngest of four children of Carl Hansberry, a successful real-estate broker, and Nannie Louise Perry, a school teacher. In 1938, her father bought a house in the Washington Park Subdivision of the South Side of Chicago, violating a restrictive covenant and incurring the wrath of many neighbors. The latter’s legal efforts to force the Hansberrys out culminated in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1940 decision in Hansberry v. Lee, holding the restrictive covenant in the case contestable, though not inherently invalid.
Hansberry attended the University of Wisconsin–Madison, but left in 1950 to pursue her career as a writer in New York City, where she attended The New School. In 1951, she joined the staff of the black newspaper Freedom under the auspices of Paul Robeson, and worked with W. E. B. DuBois, whose office was in the same building. In 1953, she married Robert Nemiroff, a Jewish publisher, songwriter and political activist. She later joined the Daughters of Bilitis and contributed two letters to their magazine, The Ladder, in 1957 under her initials “LHN” that addressed feminism and homophobia. She separated from her husband at this time, but they continued to work together.
In 1959, Raisin In The Sun debuted, becoming the first play written by an African-American woman to be produced on Broadway. The 29-year-old author became the youngest American playwright and only the fifth woman to receive the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play. A Raisin in the Sun was revived on Broadway in 2004 and received a Tony Award nomination for Best Revival of a Play. The cast included Sean “P Diddy” Combs as Walter Lee Younger Jr., Phylicia Rashad (Tony Award-winner for Best Actress) and Audra McDonald (Tony Award-winner for Best Featured Actress). It was produced for television in 2008 with the same cast, garnering two NAACP Image Awards.
While many of her other writings were published in her lifetime – essays, articles, and the text for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) book The Movement, the only other play of Hansberry’s given a contemporary production was The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window. The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window ran for 101 performances on Broadway and closed on January 12, 1965, the night she died after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Hansberry’s funeral was held in Harlem on January 15, 1965. Paul Robeson gave her eulogy. The presiding reverend, Eugene Callender, recited messages from James Baldwin and the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. which read: “Her creative ability and her profound grasp of the deep social issues confronting the world today will remain an inspiration to generations yet unborn.”
In January of this year, PBS aired an American Masters Documentary on Hansberry called “Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart.” Check out the trailer below and check your local listings for upcoming showings.
To celebrate what would have been the 93rd birthday of black nationalist and leader ElHajj Malik El-Shabazz – better known as Malcolm X – activists, comrades and relatives are coming together to salute the Civil Rights leader’s contributions to the Black community on a global level. Malcolm X’s birthday still isn’t recognized as a national holiday in the U.S., but that hasn’t stopped New York City grassroots activists from recognizing May 19 as Malcolm X Day for the past 53 years.
This morning, a caravan of vehicles gathered at the corner of 126thStreet and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, and then made their way to Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York, where Malcolm X and his beloved wife, Betty Shabazz, are buried. Malcolm X’s sister and Organization of Afro-American Unity President Ella Collins started the 53-year-old tradition.
Later in the evening, Malcolm X’s daughters Ilyasah and Malaak Shabazz are expected to take the stage and reflect on the legacy of their parents at the Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Educational and Memorial Center on Broadway, according to the Amsterdam News. Malcolm X was assassinated at age 39 on February 21, 1965, having been struck 16 times by a hail of bullets.
The King Center, the official living memorial dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr., commemorated Malcolm X’s birthday in a heartfelt tweet imploring revelers to celebrate the real icon, who, it says, was so much more than the villain the media and government tried to portray.
Today would have been #MalcolmX’s 93rd birthday. Media and government painted the picture they wanted you to see of this brilliant man. Read ‘The Autobiography of Malcolm X’ to know his true story. pic.twitter.com/W5Wbi1VRM3
Baltimore is celebrating a very special Black History Month this year in honor of Frederick Douglass’ 200th birthday. The city will host a series of events to share the abolitionist’s life and work. Though Baltimore is where Douglass spent his childhood as a slave until 1838, it is also where he learned to read and later returned to build his “Douglass Place” homes in Fell’s Point, a row of houses meant for African-American renters during the Civil War. While the Bicentennial of Frederick Douglass’ Birth is a year-long celebration, the month of February will see many events that celebrate the rich African-American heritage and culture of Baltimore:
The Maryland abolitionist’s birthday has become Frederick Douglass Day and its 200th Anniversary Celebration will be in full swing on February 10 from 12 – 4 p.m. at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum. With activities including readings of his speeches by living history re-enactors and a children’s art and story hour about his life, the event is perfect for people of all ages to engage and learn about Douglass’ impact on history.
The National Great Blacks In Wax Museum will hold lectures and seminars on Frederick Douglass, as well as host two special events on February 15 – the unveiling of a new wax figure of Frederick Douglass and a book signing with his great-great-grandson, Kenneth B. Morris, who recently published a Frederick Douglass biography.
Did you know that Frederick Douglass liked to quote Othello in his own writing? Chesapeake Shakespeare Theatre in downtown Baltimore hosts free monthly open houses, and this month, the discussions will center around Douglass and Ira Aldridge, an African-American actor who rose to fame performing as Othello in Douglass’ time. Bring your own lunch on February 13 from 12:30 – 1:30 p.m. and join the discussion on the commonality of these iconic figures.
Civil Rights activist and grass roots hero Fannie Lou Hamer would have turned 100 years old this October 6. GirlTrek, the largest national public health nonprofit and movement for Black women and girls, is celebrating her legacy by hosting 100 national walks.
Known for her courage on the frontlines of the American Civil Rights Movement, Hamer stunned the world with her electrifying account of brutal attacks and local terror in the Jim Crow South. She stood strong, demanding the attention of U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson by leading an unparalleled grassroots campaign and political party in Mississippi that delivered over 60,000 votes. Fannie Lou Hamer is responsible for helping secure the 1965 Voting Rights Act and changing the tide of justice.
The scale of her impact is made greater by her life story. Fannie Lou Hamer worked as a sharecropper from age 6. As a young woman, in an extralegal, violent act, she was given a forced hysterectomy. Unbroken, she adopted children. At 44 years old, Fannie Lou Hamer joined the American Civil Rights Movement. From church basements to the White House, Hamer was celebrated for her ability to inspire everyday people to action.
“In the iconic words of Fannie Lou Hamer, we’re ‘sick and tired of being sick and tired.’ She died too soon putting her body on the line for our freedom and we want to celebrate her life in a big way. In her honor, we are going to raise an army of sisters, #FanniesArmy, who will lead 100 walks across America at sunset on October 6th,” said GirlTrek cofounder T. Morgan Dixon.
To participate in #FanniesArmy, walk for 100 minutes at sunset on October 6th wherever you are with family and friends. To be counted, register your walk at https://rebrand.ly/fanniesarmy. The first 100 leaders to sign up will receive special edition #FanniesArmy T-shirts.
“While the country reels from conflict in Charlottesville, this is an opportunity to herald the legacy of an American hero who brought us together,” Dixon said. “Fannie Lou Hamer died too early at 59, her body riddled with heart disease and cancer. I’m reminded of the words of R. Boylorn, [Hamer] ‘never saw death coming because she was too busy taking care of others.’ She worked tirelessly in field offices and late hours registering people to vote. When pain rendered her homebound, she taught Freedom Riders the ways of resistance in her night gown from her front porch.”
What can be said that hasn’t already been shared about Stevland Hardaway Morris? Better known around six galaxies as Stevie Wonder, the man, former child prodigy and one of the most successful musicians of the late 20th century turns 67-years-old today (May 13). For those not old enough to know the story of the “Lil’ Stevie Wonder,” here it goes: Signed to Motown’s Tamla label at the age of 11, he performed, wrote, sung and produced records for them all the way into the 2010s.
With iconic singles such as “Sir Duke,”“You Are the Sunshine of My Life,” “Isn’t She Lovely,” “Superstition,” and albums such as Talking Book, Innervisions and Songs in the Key of Life — Stevie has more than 30 U.S. top ten hits, won 25 Grammy Awards, helped to make Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.‘s birthday into a national holiday. He is an official “Messenger of Peace” for the United Nations and one of the all-time top artists for the Billboard Hot 100.
To us, he is simply a man who has been in touch with the divine spirit of the Creator, and has illuminated our worlds with his songs and legacy. From playing on street corners with his friend back in the days to throwing down at President Barack Obama‘s last White House party — Stevie Wonder’s impact on pop culture, politics, activism and music are the stuff of legends. For that, we celebrate his life and continuing revolution around the sun by championing these 15 stories that you should read to get more familiar with the architect behind so many classic jams.
Ella Fitzgerald, who would have turned 100 today, was one of the most beloved and versatile singers of the 20th century. In a career that spanned six decades, Fitzgerald recorded hundreds of songs, including definitive versions of many standards. Along the way, she influenced generations of singers.
But the first thing that strikes you about Fitzgerald is that voice.
Cécile McLorin Salvant, who won a Grammy last year for Best Jazz Vocal Album, says a combination of qualities made Fitzgerald’s voice unique. “When you hear the tone of her voice — which has kind of a brightness, kind of a breathiness, but it also has this really great depth, and kind of a laser-like, really clear quality to it — it hits you,” she says.
Salvant, 27, says she learned to sing jazz standards by listening to Fitzgerald’s versions.
“I remember being 17 and living in France and feeling really homesick and wanting to go back to Miami, and listening to Ella Fitzgerald singing ‘I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,’ ” Salvant says. “And I would listen to that all day. All day. For, like, weeks. And it felt — it created a home for me.”
Fitzgerald had perfect pitch, impeccable diction and a remarkable sense of rhythm. And it all came naturally to her, as she told the CBC in 1974. “What I sing is only what I feel,” she said. “I had some lady ask me the other day about music lessons and I never — except for what I had to learn for my half-credit in school — I’ve never given it a thought. I’ve never taken breathing lessons. I had to go for myself, and I guess that’s how I got a style.”
That style was an immediate hit. Fitzgerald was discovered at an amateur contest and began her professional career when she was only 16, singing with the Chick Webb Orchestra at Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom. When she was 21, she became internationally famous with a hit record based on a nursery rhyme, “A-Tisket, A-Tasket.”
Although Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday will not be nationally observed until tomorrow, January 16, we want to honor King today as well, on his actual day of birth.
To learn more about this monumental agent of political and social change, go to biography.com, and to listen to a speech of his more relevant today than ever, check out this concluding segment from 1967’s “Where Do We Go From Here?” above.
Some stirring quotes from this speech of Dr. King’s include:
… I’m concerned about a better world. I’m concerned about justice; I’m concerned about brotherhood; I’m concerned about truth. And when one is concerned about that, he can never advocate violence. For through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can’t murder murder. Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can’t establish truth. Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can’t murder hate through violence. Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that.
And I say to you, I have also decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind’s problems. And I’m going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn’t popular to talk about it in some circles today. And I’m not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love; I’m talking about a strong, demanding love. For I have seen too much hate. I’ve seen too much hate on the faces of sheriffs in the South. I’ve seen hate on the faces of too many Klansmen and too many White Citizens Councilors in the South to want to hate, myself, because every time I see it, I know that it does something to their faces and their personalities, and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love. If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love.
She was born in Notasulga, Ala., but she didn’t like the way her story started, so she rewrote it and claimed Eatonville, Fla., as her birthplace instead. She wasn’t too partial to 1891, the year her mother delivered her, so she remixed it, and for the rest of her life, she took liberties with the mathematics of her age, knocking as many as 10 years off if the notion felt good to her.
Zora Neale Hurston was a master of creative invention and reinvention, from the personal details of her own life to her artistic catalog, which included four novels, two books of folklore, an autobiography, and dozens of short stories, essays, articles and plays. She was an original black girl unboxed.
It’s appropriate today, on what would be Zora’s 125th birthday, to honor the social and cultural freedoms she cleared for black female writers who stand on her platform and use our words to tell our own stories instead of allowing them to be told to and for us. She made it OK to be bold and conflicted, to wrestle with our identities and explore our differences as we chip away at the monolith, even to sometimes contradict ourselves and swerve, midaction, without apology.
Toni Morrison and Gloria Naylor, both literary geniuses, have credited Hurston as an inspiration, as do others, the famous and not so famous among us, who strip away pretense and dig into our personal wells of realness when we sit at a keyboard. We awe at the musicality of her prose and absorb what she said even in between the lines. This is what Hurston taught us, the black women creatives who came up in her shine.
You don’t need anybody’s permission to love who you uniquely are.
“My mother had a number of books from the canon of black women’s literature. Among them was I Love Myself When I Am Laughing … and Then Again When I Am Looking Mean and Impressive, Alice Walker’s anthology of Hurston’s work. Just the book cover and the quote did so much to shift my thinking of what it means to be a woman. Her whole damn self is inspiring, a woman who loved herself at a time when self-hatred was expected of her. I find her to be contrary, instructive, insightful, bold and a perfect guide of who I can be if I dare.” —Writer and painter Kiini Ibura Salaam
Be audacious whenever appropriate, which is pretty much always.
“I first read Their Eyes Were Watching God in college and fell in love. The lyrical prose, dynamic black female protagonist, fresh use of humor and powerful affirmation of sisterhood all bewitched me. Zora’s personal narrative, however, scared me. I aspired to write, had already started publishing some of my work, and the experience of silence and invisibility both in Zora’s work and in her life freaked me out. I was inspired by her resistance to erasure, her insistence on voiced expression, but the last years of her life seemed so tragic. I was haunted by fear of a similar kind of dispossession, even as my own writing took off after college and graduate school. Then I read Wrapped in Rainbows by Valerie Boyd. She helped me understand Zora wasn’t dispossessed at all. She was free. And she could free me.” —AuthorEisa Nefertari Ulen
Your talent will stretch across as many mediums and platforms as you will go.
“She refused to be pigeonholed into a single genre and craft. She was an amazing storyteller and cultural curator, as interested in collecting stories as she was in crafting them. Our creative lives are similar in that we study our people, culture and spirituality and write about them in plays, novels, stories and essays.” —M. Shelly Conner, Ph.D., writer and English instructor at Loyola University Chicago
You can’t do black womanhood one way, and you can’t do it wrong.
“I’ve often said Zora Neale Hurston saved my life. My mother gifted me her copy of Their Eyes Were Watching God when I was 16 and immersed in agoraphobic depression. Reading Zora kept me afloat and made me realize my life would and could be bigger than my sorrows. Because she wrote so powerfully and honestly and amazingly about love and oppression and navigating turmoil from the perspective of a black woman, I wield my pen as a sword to cover the same terrain.” —Evette Dionne Brown, freelance culture, race and gender writer
Know that the minutiae of everyday life can be woven into literary tapestry.
“Zora was the first writer to make me feel like I could tell a story that mattered, a story that people would listen to. Her words have so much power, she makes me feel like mine do, too.” —Author Shameka Erby
Say what you have to say in only the way you can say it.
“Zora Neale Hurston was fearless. At a time when being black was frowned upon and many writers were hoping to appease white America, she reveled in our culture and wrote in its voice. Whenever I question my voice, or whether or not I should ‘tone it down’ for the ‘mainstream,’ I think of her, and I write.” —Britni Danielle, freelance journalist and novelist
Speak for the people who don’t have the opportunity to be heard.
“Her work was honest. She wrote based on her experiences with people and provided voice to the voiceless through her characters. She was a true ethnographer depicting working-class black folks through her writing. Like her, I hope to give voice to the women that I write about in my scholarly endeavors.” —VaNatta Ford, Ph.D., visiting professor of Africana studies at Williams College
Trust your own (unconventional) approaches.
“It wasn’t until recently that I realized how much influence Zora Neale Hurston’s life and work had on my own life and work as a young ethnographer. The more I learned about and read her lesser-known anthropological work on black folklore, the more I realized that she, too, struggled early on to find her voice in academia. But what made her a significant influence to me was the fact that she lived by her wits, intuition and imagination. She continued to document black life even when academics criticized her approach. She trusted herself.” —Tara L. Conley, ethnographer and doctoral candidate, Columbia University
Outfit yourself in resilience and perseverance.
“My heart breaks knowing she died in poverty, buried in an unmarked grave. And yes, I know the great Alice Walker found the grave years later and purchased a headstone. Her end-of-life story, however, reminds me that literary notoriety is fickle and arbitrary and, as African-American women writers, we can help redeem the final chapter of Zora Neale Hurston’s life by never giving up in word or deed. That’s how her life and writing inspire me. Never give up. Keep going. Don’t stop. Ever. Always.” —Author Patricia Raybon
DURHAM, N.C. — John Hope Franklin, a scholar who helped create the field of African-American history, was instrumental both in documenting America’s long and long-ignored legacy of slavery and racism and in reaffirming the continuing importance of that history, Harvard President Drew Faust said during an event Thursday evening commemorating his life and scholarship.
“John Hope Franklin wrote history — discovering neglected and forgotten dimensions of the past, mining archives with creativity and care, building in the course of his career a changed narrative of the American experience and the meaning of race within it,” she said. “But John Hope also meditated about history and its place in the world, on its role as action as well as description, on history itself as causal agent, and on the writing of history as mission as well as profession.”
Franklin was born in 1915 and raised in segregated Oklahoma. Graduating from Fisk University in 1935, he earned a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1941. Over the course of his career, he held faculty posts at a number of institutions, including Howard University and the University of Chicago, before being appointed in 1983 the James B. Duke Professor of History at Duke University. “From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African-Americans,” published in 1947, is still considered a definitive account of the black experience in America. A lecture series later published as a book, “Racial Equality in America,” became another of his most iconic works. Franklin died in 2009.
An American historian herself, Faust gave the keynote address in the last of a yearlong series of events as part of the John Hope Franklin Centenary, sponsored by Duke University to mark the 100th anniversary of his birth.
Usher may be the reigning King of R&B, but, right now, we’re pretty sure he’s feeling like the King of the World.”
The soulful singer spent October 14, his 37th birthday, recording a taping of PBS’ concert series “In Performance at the White House.” He and his bride Grace were chatting with President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama when they surprised him by singing “Happy Birthday” and presented him with a cupcake topped with a single candle.
The former “The Voice” coach seemed humbled — and in total disbelief — by the experience, at one point, turning to the videographer and asking, “Are you getting this?
After the First Couple were done singing to Usher, President Obama said, “That’s a good cupcake, too.”
Along with Usher, Queen Latifah, Smokey Robinson, and Esperanza Spalding also performed at the White House for the concert series.