June 22, 2024

Lorraine Hansberry residence is now listed as national historic site

The New York City home of indelible playwright and activist Lorraine Hansberry is now officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Though she kept her sexuality private throughout her lifetime, Hansberry routinely addressed LGBTQ+ topics in her writing and had romantic relationships with women.

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Her home’s designation as a historic place follows the advocacy efforts of the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project

“Honoring the very place where Lorraine Hansberry lived and worked through these State and National Register listings marks another important step in our mission to highlight the contributions of LGBT people to American history,” said Amanda Davis, project manager, NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project in a press release. 

Lorraine Hansberry Residence. Credit: Christopher D. Brazee/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2020

The Chicago-born writer is best known for her play A Raisin In the Sun which premiered on Broadway in 1959. The play’s title stems from a line in the poem “Harlem” by Langston Hughes.

Hansberry bonded with other writers and artists who were part of the LGBTQ+ community including James Baldwin and Nina Simone. She worked on the play at her apartment on 337 Bleecker Street in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village–a location where numerous historic events have taken place including the 1969 Stonewall uprising. She lived in the apartment from 1953 to 1960, according to the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project.

“Hansberry’s active involvement in the civil rights movement and her influential writings on gender expectations and being a lesbian in 1950s America make her a thought-provoking figure for our time,” added Davis. “The proximity of the Lorraine Hansberry Residence to Stonewall National Monument also provides an invaluable opportunity for tours and school groups to expand on their understanding of LGBT history beyond the 1969 Stonewall uprising”. 

Portrait of Lorraine Hansberry in her Bleecker Street apartment, 1959. Photo by David Attie for Vogue Magazine. Source: National Portrait Gallery.

In recent years, scholars have learned more about Hansberry’s life. She was a contributor to the The Ladder magazine which was the country’s first nationally-distributed lesbian magazines, and many of those writings have been cited by journalists and scholars, along with her journal entries. 

In one of her Ladder pieces, Hansberry asserts, “What ought to be clear is that one is oppressed or discriminated against because one is different, not ‘wrong,’ or ‘bad’ somehow.”

People can view archival photos, video documentaries and learn more about Hansberry on the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project website. 

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“For many students across the country, Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun is a first introduction to theater and playwriting. Not included in many of the curricula is the all too brief life of the author,” said NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation commissioner Erik Kulleseid

“The listing of Hansberry’s residence in the NYS and National Registers adds to the scholarship of her life as a gay author in the 1950s and 60s.” 

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