- Analyze the connections among civil rights, women’s rights and gay rights.
- Examine the role African-American women played in the movements for racial, gender and sexual equality.
- Explore the overlap and interplay between the ideas and activism that shaped the multiple political movements that materialized after World War II.
- What does it mean to “straight-wash” a historical figure?
- What is the relationship between the civil rights movement and gay rights activism?
- How do activists simultaneously participate in multiple political movements?
- What do Hansberry’s writings and life illuminate about the intersections among civil rights, women’s liberation and the historic struggle for LGBT equality?
In this lesson, students will examine the battle over how history has remembered one of the United States' important mid-20th century playwrights. Some scholars consider Lorraine Hansberry to be a literary genius because she masked radical black politics through the construction of seemingly unthreatening African-American characters. Her 1959 play, A Raisin in the Sun blazed a trail for African Americans into mainstream theatre and entertainment. While Hansberry has long been recognized as a significant figure in black history, less is known about her advocacy for lesbian and gay rights. Hansberry never publically shared her sexual orientation, but she is often described as a closeted lesbian by those who have studied her life and politics. Hansberry’s sexual politics and advocacy for LGBT rights is the subject of this lesson.
Creating a Timeline
Read the Lorraine Hansberry Biography. Then, complete the Life of Lorraine Hansberry handout. Use the biography to fill in the timeline about Hansberry’s life and achievements (Note: List of events included for instructor.)
After reading the Lorraine Hansberry Biography and completing the timeline, use the document and context that is provided to define the following: A Raisin in the Sun, Hansberry v. Lee, Daughters of Bilitisand The Ladder.
Close and Critical Reading
- Read “Lorraine Hansberry’s Gay Politics” independently.
- While reading, highlight passages where the writer discusses Hansberry’s thoughts about race, gender or sexuality. Ask yourself the following questions: How does the author use the term “straight-wash”? Is the term applicable to Hansberry’s life and legacy? What does the term “straight-wash” mean or imply?
- After you have finished reading and highlighting your passages, discuss the questions and the text you selected as an entire class. Be ready to explain why you chose the passages you selected.
Write to the Source
Based on the sources, write a brief biography of Lorraine Hansberry. Use the biography you read as a model, but add the information learned from the newspaper article and any additional sources you consult. Do the three documents paint the same portrait of Hansberry, or are they different? What explains the inconsistencies you identify? Your biography should capture Hansberry’s complexity and include a discussion about her sexual politics. It should also discuss the connection that Hansberry saw among civil rights for African Americans, women’s liberation, and gay and lesbian rights. Should we consider Hansberry’s sexual politics to be ahead of her time? Where would Hansberry’s political beliefs fit in today’s society? If Hansberry were still alive, do you think she would be a controversial figure?
During Black History Month organize a student committee that will focus on ensuring that LGBT people are included in the events planned at your school. Start by finding an adult who can serve as your group advisor. Conduct research about African-American LGBT people. Compile a list based on what you discover. Choose 10 individuals from the list. Write one-paragraph biographies of each person, including information about birth, death, organizational affiliations, life accomplishments and historical contributions. Select an image to accompany each biography. If possible, post your final biographies in a visible place in your school’s main hallway. You may also create a short, optional interactive quiz that participants in the history walk will complete as they read about each individual.
This activity addresses the following standards using the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts.
CCSS: R.1, R.2, R.3, R.4, R.10, W.1, W.2, W.3, W.4, W.9, SL.1, SL.2, SL.3, SL.4, L.1, L.2, L.5