Magazine article Monthly Review

The Scars of the Ghetto

Magazine article Monthly Review

The Scars of the Ghetto

Article excerpt

The article that appears below is reprintedfrom the February 1965 issue of Monthly Review. Despite her small body of work and short life, Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965) is considered one of the great African-American dramatists of the twentieth century. Her play A Raisin in the Sun (1959) is required reading, and performed regularly, in high schools and colleges nationwide, as well as on Broadway and London's West End. Hansberry's association with the left, and especially with Monthly Review, began in her teenage years. When she moved to New York, she became good friends with Leo Huberman and Paul M. Sweexy. In spring 1964, although terminally ill with pancreatic cancer, she left her hospital bed to speak at a benefit for Monthly Review Press; her speech appeared posthumously as the article below.

Hansberry was a thoroughgoing socialist and radical, committing her time and skills to causes like the peace movement and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Indeed, A Raisin in the Sun, which draws on events in her own life, is also a biting critique of capitalism, its corruptions, and its devastating human cost. Her father, Carl Hansberry-who had some success in Chicago real estate despite being black and the 1930s depression-was unable to buy a house for his family in a largely white neighborhood because of the then-common restrictive covenants, now called "redlining," which were used to enforce residential segregation.

He sued and won an ostensibly landmark case in the U.S. Supreme Court, Hansberry v. Lee, 311 U.S. 32 (1940) outlawing such covenants. However, the decision was widely ignored or unenforced. As his increasingly radical daughter saw it, the system of residential segregation trumped the legal niceties, leaving the everyday racist reality essentially unaffected by the decision. Moreover, the stress of the long litigation, and the fierce attacks the senior Hansberry was subjected to by white supremacists in the community, caused his health to break down; he died in 1946 at age fifty. None of this tragedy was lost on his only daughter who saw in this family catastrophe a profound failure of "the system. " In the last decade of her short life, Lorraine Hansberry put her writing talent entirely in service to her radical sensibility and her search for revolutionary solutions. -John J. Simon

The most exciting and purposeful events which are presently and regularly occurring in our country are those which involve the efforts of the Negro people of the United States to wrest their birthright of full citizenship from a laggard and oppressive nation. It is, contrary to the myth, an old, old struggle. There isn't such a thing as the new Negro, if by that term we are made to understand that the present militant surge of the Negro people is without historical precedent. I make a point of saying this everywhere because it seems to me to need a great deal of emphasis. After all, even though it's not as well known as it should be, the Negro people have sustained one of the most heroic resistances to tyranny in the history of man. Our African ancestors came to the New World fighting slavery by mutiny on the high seas and by suicide. The very character of slavery in the United States was defined by the black man's repudiation of his enslavement, with which he daily did battle by sabotage, work stoppage, acts of violence against those who enslaved him, and of course, most telling of all, by running away by the thousands from slavery. And when the time came to give the fatal blow to the slave system, Negroes by the tens of thousands fell into the ranks of Lincoln's Union Army to serve in any way they could to destroy that hideous cancer against human dignity that was the Confederacy. They served as cooks, spies, work battalions, thousands and thousands of men and women. Every moment that could be spared, the ex-slave begged and harassed his liberator to teach him the alphabet and figures. To know of the esteem in which education is held requires some intimacy with the cultural traditions and folkways of Negroes. …

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