Black History on Broadway: Celebrating Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun

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Black History on Broadway: Celebrating Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun

The seminal drama, acclaimed for its honest portrayal of the Black experience in America, was the first play by an African-American woman to be produced on Broadway.

On March 11, 1959, the original Broadway production of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. The play, which details the experiences of a Black family in Chicago, was the first by an African-American woman to be produced on Broadway, as well as the first with an African-American director and one of the first to examine African-American life on the cusp of the Civil Rights era. The production transferred to the Belasco Theatre in October 1959 before eventually closing on June 25, 1960.

With a title drawing from a line in Langston Hughes’ poem “Harlem” (“What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?”), the drama tells the story of Walter Younger and his mother, Lena, who both yearn to move their family out of Chicago’s Southside ghetto. When Lena’s late husband’s insurance check arrives, Lena hopes to use it to buy a house in a white neighborhood—while Walter hopes to invest it in a liquor business.

Look Back on A Raisin in the Sun on Broadway

Look Back on A Raisin in the Sun on Broadway

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Ruby Dee and Sidney Poitier

Friedman-Abeles/New York Public Library


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Sidney Poitier and Claudia McNeil

Friedman-Abeles/New York Public Library


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Claudia McNeil and Sidney Poitier

Friedman-Abeles/New York Public Library


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Claudia McNeil and Diana Sands

Friedman-Abeles/New York Public Library


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Claudia McNeil, Sidney Poitier, and Diana Sands

Friedman-Abeles/New York Public Library


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Ruby Dee and Syndey Poitier

Friedman-Abeles/New York Public Library


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Diana Sands, Claudia McNeil, and Ed Hall

Friedman-Abeles/New York Public Library


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Claudia McNeil

Friedman-Abeles/New York Public Library


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Friedman-Abeles/New York Public Library


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Friedman-Abeles/New York Public Library


The production starred Sidney Poitier as Walter Lee Younger, Ruby Dee as Ruth Younger, Claudia McNeil as Lena Younger, Diana Sands as Beneatha Younger, Ivan Dixon as Joseph Asagai, Lonne Elder III as Bobo, John Fielder as Karl Lindner, Glynn Turman as Travis Younger, Louis Gossett, Jr. as George Murchison, and Ed Hall and Douglas Turner as the Moving Men. Poitier and McNeil were both nominated for Tony Awards for the performances; the play also received Tony nominations for Best Play and for Lloyd Richards’ direction.

A Raisin in the Sun was later adapted as a film in 1961, featuring most of the original cast; Hansberry herself wrote the screenplay, with Daniel Petrie serving as director. Poitier and McNeil were again nominated for their performances, this time at the 1962 Golden Globe Awards.

Read: How Lorraine Hansberry Turned Her Family’s Story Into A Raisin in the Sun

Known as Hansberry’s seminal work, the play has since been revived on Broadway twice—once in 2004, in a production starring Sean Combs and Audra McDonald, and again in a Tony-winning 2014 revival, which starred Denzel Washington and Sophie Okonedo.

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