In March, 2014, I had the privilege of seeing Denzel Washington on Broadway when he starred in a new production of Lorraine Hansberry’s ‘A Raisin In the Sun’. Hansberry’s classic play has graced the Broadway stage repeatedly throughout the years and even caught the eye of Hollywood being adapted to movie and television formats. When she wrote the play, I don’t know if she knew then that it would go on to become a classic, but I do believe that she was fully aware that her play would have an impact on American society and the never-ending issue with race. The play is set in a time where segregation and racial discrimination were highly prevalent throughout the United States. We are introduced to a small American family struggling to live the American dream. Living in a small apartment as a typical nuclear family, Walter Lee, Ruth, Travis and Lena, represent the social status of millions of African-Americans at the time. The death of Lena’s husband results in a life insurance payout and the family now is faced with the question of what to do with the settlement. While Walter Lee has his own idea, Mama has her own plan, one that will test every member of the family. Her vision to buy a house in predominantly white neighborhood is the crux of the play and the most intense. The visit by Mr. Lindner on behalf of the resident’s association highlights the discrimination and fear that gripped suburban communities as minorities attempted to leave the turmoil of the inner city during the middle of the 20th century.
Although the issue of the house is critical to the development of the play, the characters we meet are equally just as important. Through them we are able to re-evaluate our own thoughts on marriage, religion, parent-child relationships and the relationships we have with our friends. Hansberry’s masterpiece continues to open eyes and hearts and is a crucial piece of literature that ranks high among the works of all celebrated authors. The true tragedy is that she didn’t live to see the legacy her play developed following her death. Had she lived, I think she would be amazed at how far America has come since the Youngers dared to challenge social norms and make a case for integration on their own. And she would never hesitate to remind that it’s okay to sit awhile and think.