“To Be a Man”: Progressive Masculinities in Lorraine Hansberry’s Cold War-Civil Rights Plays

  • Julie BurrellEmail author
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Theatre and Performance History book series (PSTPH)


This chapter reinterprets the most well-known civil rights play, A Raisin in the Sun (1959), arguing that playwright Lorraine Hansberry situates the fight for civil rights firmly within black left feminist politics. In her characterization of Walter Lee in Raisin and his later analog in the posthumous Les Blancs (1970), Hansberry challenges prevailing assumptions about black masculinity. By analyzing the scripts and production histories of these plays, along with Hansberry’s essays in The Village Voice, Burrell demonstrates how Hansberry opposed stereotypes propounded by white liberals like Norman Mailer, who cast black men as violent and hypersexual. Ultimately, Hansberry transformed enactments of black masculinity on the American stage, creating a space for progressive black masculinities.


Archival Collections

  1. Childress, Alice. Papers. Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books Division. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. New York Public Library. New York, NY.Google Scholar
  2. Hansberry, Lorraine. Papers. Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books Division. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. New York Public Library. New York, NY.Google Scholar
  3. Theatre on Film and Tape Archive. The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. New York Public Library. New York, NY.Google Scholar

Newspapers and Periodicals

  1. Journal-American.Google Scholar
  2. New York Times.Google Scholar
  3. New York World-Telegram and the Sun.Google Scholar
  4. Village Voice.Google Scholar

Secondary Sources

  1. Anderson, Michael. “Lorraine Hansberry’s Freedom Family.” In Red Activists and Black Freedom: James and Esther Jackson and the Long Civil Rights Revolution. Edited by David Levering Lewis, et al., 89–100. New York: Routledge, 2010.Google Scholar
  2. Armstrong, Julie Buckner. Introduction to The Cambridge Companion to American Civil Rights Literature. Edited by Julie Buckner Armstrong. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015.Google Scholar
  3. Baldwin, James. Collected Essays. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 1998.Google Scholar
  4. Bernstein, Robin. “Inventing a Fishbowl: White Supremacy and the Critical Reception of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun.” Modern Drama 42 (1999): 16–27.Google Scholar
  5. Carter, Steven R. Hansberry’s Drama: Commitment amid Complexity. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991.Google Scholar
  6. Clark, Keith. “Black Male Subjectivity Deferred? The Quest for Voice and Authority in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun.” In Black Women Playwrights. Edited by Carol P. Marsh-Lockett, 87–111. New York: Garland, 1999.Google Scholar
  7. Collins, Patricia Hill. “A Telling Difference: Dominance, Strength, and Black Masculinities.” In Progressive Black Masculinities. Edited by Athena D. Mutua, 73–97. New York: Routledge, 2006.Google Scholar
  8. Cuordileone, K. A. Manhood and American Political Culture in the Cold War. New York: Routledge, 2005.Google Scholar
  9. Elam, Harry J. “The Dialectics of August Wilson’s Piano Lesson.” Theatre Journal 52, no. 3 (2000): 361–379.Google Scholar
  10. Estes, Steve. I Am a Man! Race, Manhood, and the Civil Rights Movement. Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 2005.Google Scholar
  11. Ferguson, Roderick A. Aberrations in Black: Toward a Queer of Color Critique. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004.Google Scholar
  12. Galella, Donatella. “Playing in the Dark/Musicalizing A Raisin in the Sun.” Continuum: The Journal of African Diaspora Drama, Theatre and Performance 1, no. 2 (2015). Web.Google Scholar
  13. Genet, Jean. The Blacks: A Clown Show. Translated by Bernard Frechtman. New York: Grove Press, 1960.Google Scholar
  14. Gomez, Jewelle L. “Lorraine Hansberry: Uncommon Warrior.” In Reading Black, Reading Feminist: A Critical Anthology. Edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. New York: Meridian, 1990.Google Scholar
  15. Gore, Dayo F. Radicalism at the Crossroads: African American Women Activists in the Cold War. New York: New York University Press, 2011.Google Scholar
  16. Hansberry, Lorraine. “A Challenge to Artists.” Freedomways 3, no. 1 (1963): 32.Google Scholar
  17. ———. “An Author’s Reflections: Willy Loman, Walter Younger, and He Who Must Live.” In Women in Theatre: Compassion and Hope. Edited by Karen Malpede, 163–176. New York: Limelight Editions, 1985.Google Scholar
  18. ———. Les Blancs: The Collected Last Plays. New York: Vintage, 1994.Google Scholar
  19. ———. A Raisin in the Sun and The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window. New York: Vintage, 1995.Google Scholar
  20. ———. To Be Young, Gifted and Black. New York: Signet Classics, 2011.Google Scholar
  21. Higashida, Cheryl. “To Be(come) Young, Gay, and Black: Lorraine Hansberry’s Existentialist Routes to Anticolonialism.” American Quarterly 60, no. 4 (December 2008): 899–924.Google Scholar
  22. ———. Black Internationalist Feminism: Women Writers of the Black Left, 1945–1995. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2011.Google Scholar
  23. Hodin, Mark. “Lorraine Hansberry’s Absurdity: The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window.” Contemporary Literature 50, no. 4 (2009): 742–774.Google Scholar
  24. Hull, Gloria T., and Patricia Bell Scott. Introduction to All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, but Some of Us Are Brave. Edited by Gloria T. Hull, Patricia Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith. Westbury, NY: The Feminist Press, 1992.Google Scholar
  25. Jones, Claudia. “An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman!” In Words of Fire: An Anthology of African-American Feminist Thought. Edited by Beverly Guy-Sheftall, 108–123. New York: The New Press, 1995.Google Scholar
  26. Keppel, Ben. The Work of Democracy: Ralph Bunche, Kenneth B. Clark, Lorraine Hansberry, and the Cultural Politics of Race. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995.Google Scholar
  27. Keppel, Ben. “Looking Through Sidney Brustein’s Window: Lorraine Hansberry’s New Frontier, 1959–1965.” In Racially Writing the Republic: Racists, Race Rebels, and Transformations of American Identity. Edited by Bruce Baum and Duchess Harris, 247–262. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009.Google Scholar
  28. Lieberman, Robbie. “‘Measure Them Right’: Lorraine Hansberry and the Struggle for Peace.” Science & Society 75, no. 2 (2011): 206–235.Google Scholar
  29. Lipari, Lisbeth. “The Rhetoric of Intersectionality: Lorraine Hansberry’s 1957 Letters to the Ladder.” In Queering Public Address: Sexualities in American Historical Discourse. Edited by Charles E. Morris III, 220–248. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2007.Google Scholar
  30. Maxwell, William J. F. B. Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover’s Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015.Google Scholar
  31. McDuffie, Erik S. Sojourning for Freedom: Black Women, American Communism, and the Making of Black Left Feminism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011.Google Scholar
  32. Millett, Kate. Sexual Politics. New York: Doubleday, 1970.Google Scholar
  33. Moreno, Michael P. “Reifying Cold War (Sub)Urban Systems: The Spatial Anatomy of Black Masculinity in A Raisin in the Sun.” In Reel Histories: Studies in American Film. Edited by Melissa Croteau, 87–109. Los Angeles, CA: Press Americana, 2008.Google Scholar
  34. Mutua, Athena D. “Theorizing Progressive Black Masculinities.” In Progressive Black Masculinities. Edited by Athena D. Mutua, 3–42. New York: Routledge, 2006.Google Scholar
  35. Patterson, Robert J. Exodus Politics: Civil Rights and Leadership in African American Literature and Culture. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2013.Google Scholar
  36. Rich, Adrienne. “The Problem with Lorraine Hansberry.” Freedomways 19, no. 4 (1979): 247–255.Google Scholar
  37. Sandarg, Robert. “Jean Genet and the Black Panther Party.” Journal of Black Studies 16, no. 3 (1986): 269–282.Google Scholar
  38. Shaw, Justin. “Destabilizing Sexistentialism and Hegemonic Masculinity in Norman Mailer’s An American Dream.” Canadian Review of American Studies 44, no. 1 (2014): 44–64.Google Scholar
  39. Smith, Judith. Visions of Belonging: Family Stories, Popular Culture, and Postwar Democracy, 1940–1960. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.Google Scholar
  40. Smith II, Preston H. Racial Democracy and the Black Metropolis: Housing Policy in Postwar Chicago. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012.Google Scholar
  41. Washington, Mary Helen. “Alice Childress, Lorraine Hansberry, and Claudia Jones: Black Women Write the Popular Front.” In Left of the Color Line: Race, Radicalism, and Twentieth-Century Literature of the United States. Edited by Bill V. Mullen and James Smethurst, 183–204. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2003.Google Scholar
  42. Wilkins, Fanon Che. “Beyond Bandung: The Critical Nationalism of Lorraine Hansberry, 1950–1965.” Radical History Review 95 (2006): 191–210.Google Scholar
  43. Wolfe, George C. The Colored Museum. New York: Grove Press, 1988.Google Scholar
  44. Young, Harvey. “Afterword: Interview with George C. Wolfe.” In Reimagining A Raisin in the Sun: Four New Plays. Edited by Rebecca Ann Rugg and Harvey Young, 415–428. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2012.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cleveland State UniversityClevelandUSA

Personalised recommendations