If J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI had ever edited an anthology of African American writing, Lorraine Hansberry’s often-revived play A Raisin in the Sun (1959) might have been its central text. FBI officials monitored the progress of Raisin even before it premiered on Broadway, and sent an especially literate undercover agent to a Philadelphia try-out at the Walnut Theatre. “The play contains no comments of any nature about Communism as such,” this ghostreader certified in a sensitive review, “but deals essentially with negro [sic] aspirations, the problems inherent in their efforts to advance themselves, and varied attempts at arriving at solutions.” Hansberry’s FBI file predates Raisin, however, the first play by a black woman performed on Broadway and a winner of the New York Drama Critics Circle Award. Born into a well-to-do family in Chicago, Hansberry (1930-1965) was initially tracked by the Bureau in 1952, suspicions growing about her work for Paul Robeson’s newspaper Freedom and her travel to a Montevideo peace conference. The FBI closely followed her career after Raisin as well: her fundraising on behalf on the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and other civil rights involvements; her call for the abolition of the anticommunist House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC); and her second play on Broadway, the Greenwich Village-set bohemian drama The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window (1964). Her lengthy Bureau file, 1,020 pages thick, stopped growing only with her premature death of cancer in 1965. “To Be Young, Gifted and Black,” an anthemic song written in Hansberry’s honor by Nina Simone and Weldon Irvine, became a major R&B hit in 1970.
FBI documents studying Lorraine Hansberry.
Material is in the public domain.
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