Tales from The b.a.SKET: Black Art Sketches for the Contemporary Art Lover
By D. Amari Jackson
This week, we reach into the b.a.SKET and pull out a Supreme Court case involving the family of a famous writer…
On May 26, 1937, Chicago real estate broker, Carl Hansberry, and schoolteacher and ward committeewoman, Nannie Louise Hansberry, moved their family to Woodlawn, an all-white neighborhood near the University of Chicago. There, the Hansberrys and their children were targeted by local residents bent on keeping Woodlawn white. In one harrowing incident, a brick flew through a first-floor window with such force it subsequently had to be pried from the wall.
If that wasn’t bad enough, Woodlawn resident, Anna M. Lee, joined with neighbors to petition the Circuit Court of Cook County to enforce a restrictive covenant that would remove the Hansberrys from their home. The covenant, far from rare at the time, stated that no part of the real estate should be “sold, leased to, or permitted to be occupied by any person of the colored race.” After two years of legal wrangling, the Supreme Court of Illinois affirmed the validity of the restrictive covenant in Lee v. Hansberry, a ruling aimed at forcing the family from their home and ensuring select neighborhoods remain white.
But the Hansberrys weren’t having it. They appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court who, in 1940, reversed the Illinois Supreme Court decision. As a result of their important legal victory, the Hansberrys were able to stay in their Woodlawn home.
Unfortunately, their legal win was also a loss. Noted playwright, Lorraine Hansberry, a preteen at the time of the court battles, would later contend that her father Carl never recovered from the stressful toll of the racism and harassment he and his family faced. Six years after the ruling, Carl Hansberry died from a cerebral hemorrhage while planning to move his family to Mexico, away from the rampant racism of the United States.
Lorraine would incorporate her father’s treatment and the beatings and insults she received as a kid in Woodlawn into her subsequent writing career and political activism. Sadly, she died from cancer on January 12, 1965 at the young age of 34.
“I think, then, that Negroes must concern themselves with every single means of struggle: legal, illegal, passive, active, violent and non-violent. That they must harass, debate, petition, give money to court struggles, sit-in, lie-down, strike, boycott, sing hymns, pray on steps—and shoot from their windows when the racists come cruising through their communities.”
—Lorraine Hansberry, To Be Young Gifted and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words. Adapted by Robert Nemiroff with an introduction by James Baldwin, p.214, 1969.
With her stunning work, Lorraine Hansberry, artist Gale Fulton Ross captures the indelible beauty of an extraordinary playwright, writer, and activist who left us far too soon.
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Amari Jackson is a creator, author, TV/web/film producer, and award-winning journalist. He is author of the 2011 novel, The Savion Sequence; creator/writer/coproducer of the 2012-2014 web series The Book Look; writer/coproducer of the 2016 film Edge of the Pier; and current writer/coproducer of Listen Up! on HBCU GO/Roku TV. He is a former Chief of Staff for a NJ State Senator; a former VP of Communications & Development for the Jamestown Project at Harvard University; and a recipient of several writing fellowships including the George Washington Williams Fellowship from the Independent Press Association. An active ghost writer, song writer, martial artist, and journalist, his writings have appeared in a wide variety of national and regional publications.
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