A Raisin In The Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

What happens to a dream deferred? 

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore—

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over—

like a syrupy sweet?

 Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.

 Or does it explode

Langston Hughes

 

 

 

 

By Nyambura Mutanyi 

(cmutanyi.wordpress.com)

 

These lines from Langston Hughes’ poem “Dream Deferred” lend this book its title and lay the groundwork of a play that, 57 years after Hansberry had it published, still echoes true in a world that is different from the one in which she wrote it.

The play opens at the residence of the Youngers; a Black family that lives in the South side of Chicago and awaits a cheque with anticipation that would be palpable on stage. Their breadwinner having passed away, this cheque is the next step in life for a family that escaped the South; his life insurance cheque. For Mama, it is a mean replacement for the man she lived with for many years while for each of the other adults in the family, this cheque presents a chance for them to fulfil their dreams. The Youngers live in a small apartment in conditions that are appalling and it’s no wonder that they all seem to have invested so much of themselves in a piece of paper. The cheque comes to represent, on some level, the older Mr Younger embodied. A sort of sacrament for the fulfilment of his family.

Money is definitely a significant issue in this play. Making it, spending it, squandering it, anticipating it. In a time when the global economy is a shambles, it’s certainly relevant. The Youngers’ talk of money would be vulgar in the eyes of the elite but it will be very familiar to those people who sense that their life has transformed into a struggle to survive, let alone progress. The promise of money that lingers in this play is particularly poignant as it progresses. At once a tool for hope and despair, Hansberry managed to paint a picture that encapsulates all the various ways in which it comes to represent so many different things to each of the members of the household.

Race and money merge to present us with a picture of what it means to strive and what breaking away does to those who manage to escape from poverty. The ‘uppity’ black man is encapsulated by George, a young man who views all things Black with disdain. He is the true embodiment of the feeling of the oppressed that might is right. Hansberry juxtaposed him beautifully against the lone African character in the play. Eager to lead his country to freedom, the hope he has contrasts sharply with the hopelessness felt by Walter, the younger Mr Younger. The Black experience is not a linear experience. In one house-for that is the only place in which this play occurs-all the various permutations of what exactly it means to be Black are queried and spoken of in the language of the man on the street and that of those we have grown to know as the Black Panthers.

Lorraine Hansberry
Lorraine Hansberry

From an African perspective, it is particularly shuddering how much Hansberry saw into the future. As Asagai, the lone African character, speaks to the Americans you can hear his lofty positions. His country may be part of the Empire but he has pride. In a searing monologue, he looks into the future and foresees the fate of Lumumba and the tragedies that were visited upon the people on the continent in the wake of independence. This issue puts hope in perspective; should it be unfettered or would limiting it be a denial of the very freedom of the people?

The women in this play present a microcosm of society. Women are treated as second class citizens in society and sustain this in their own lives. Hansberry shows that it might be true that women are their own enemies but this play also shows the sisterhood of women in a very beautiful way. Banding together to develop themselves and their own, they do it in a way that is uniquely female. Ruth Younger’s predicaments distill those of so many women and the solutions that are developed in the time of the play are a model of female strength rarely seen on stage. This doesn’t mean that men are relegated to the back burner. Rather, they are shown in all their complexity with the strength and influence of women a significant theme.

 

Hansberry wrote a play that celebrated feminism before it had a name. There is a direct line that links the thoughts of the three women in the Younger household. Women who are vastly different-one Southern, one a domestic worker, another young and educated-show the true nature of feminism. Set in a country that went on to treat the feminist ideal as a White ideal, it is a reminder to the world that the development of self and the liberation of the mind and body are human and to limit the experiences of any one gender is to subtract from humanity.

Set in a changing world, this play retains its freshness for that very reason. Even as things change, they truly remain the same. Ambition and aspiration are common denominators of the human experience. Written when Ghana was the only independent ex-colony in Africa, its telling of the desire for freedom rings true today in the wake of the Arab Spring and with the recent coups in some parts of Africa.

So many things about this play reverberate in a world vastly different from that in which Hansberry lived and died. Women, Black people and the residents of the African continent have made significant gains but so much is yet to be done and achieved. The soaring end of this play is hope as we have not been taught to expect. Not ‘happily ever after’ but living to die another day. At times heart-rending and entertaining, this is a classic play.

 

Our deepest gratitude to Nyambura Mutanyi for allowing us to repost this article. You can find further posts from her work here at cmutanyi.wordpress.com.

 

“Eyes on The Prize” – America’s Civil Rights Years (1954-1985)

Eyes on the Prize recounts the fight to end decades of discrimination and segregation. It is the story of the people — young and old, male and female, northern and southern — who, compelled by a meeting of conscience and circumstance, worked to eradicate a world where whites and blacks could not go to the same school, ride the same bus, vote in the same election, or participate equally in society. It was a world in which peaceful demonstrators were met with resistance and brutality — in short, a reality that is now nearly incomprehensible to many young Americans.

Through contemporary interviews and historical footage, Eyes on the Prize traces the civil rights movement from the Montgomery bus boycott to the Voting Rights Act; from early acts of individual courage through the flowering of a mass movement and its eventual split into factions. Julian Bond, political leader and civil rights activist, narrates.

The driving force behind Eyes on the Prize and Blackside, Henry Hampton (1940-1998) won numerous awards for this landmark series including the duPont-Columbia Gold Baton, the Peabody Award, and Academy Award nominations. He set out to share his vision of what he called “the remarkable human drama that was the Civil Rights Movement” through the Eyes on the Prize documentary and a book of the same title by Juan Williams. In recent years, a number of key figures who appear in the films (including the Reverend Ralph Abernathy, a leader of the Montgomery bus boycott; Coretta Scott King, wife of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, and an activist in her own right; Kwame Ture, also known as Stokely Carmichael, leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; and George Wallace, the 1960s Alabama governor who resisted integration) have died, making this record of their testimony all the more valuable.

Programs in the series:

1- Awakenings (1954-1956)

Individual acts of courage inspire black Southerners to fight for their rights: Mose Wright testifies against the white men who murdered young Emmett Till, and Rosa Parks refuses to give up her bus seat to a white man in Montgomery, Alabama.

2- Fighting Back (1957-1962)

States’ rights loyalists and federal authorities collide in the 1957 battle to integrate Little Rock’s Central High School, and again in James Meredith’s 1962 challenge to segregation at the University of Mississippi. Both times, a Southern governor squares off with a U.S. president, violence erupts — and integration is carried out.

3- Ain’t Scared of Your Jails (1960-1961)

Black college students take a leadership role in the civil rights movement as lunch counter sit-ins spread across the South. “Freedom Riders” also try to desegregate interstate buses, but they are brutally attacked as they travel.

4- No Easy Walk (1961-1963)

The civil rights movement discovers the power of mass demonstrations as the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. emerges as its most visible leader. Some demonstrations succeed; others fail. But the triumphant March on Washington, D.C., under King’s leadership, shows a mounting national support for civil rights. President John F. Kennedy proposes the Civil Rights Act.

5- Mississippi: Is This America? (1963-1964)

Mississippi’s grass-roots civil rights movement becomes an American concern when college students travel south to help register black voters and three activists are murdered. The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party challenges the regular Mississippi delegation at the Democratic Convention in Atlantic City.

6- Bridge to Freedom (1965)

A decade of lessons is applied in the climactic and bloody march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. A major victory is won when the federal Voting Rights Bill passes, but civil rights leaders know they have new challenges ahead.

7- The Time Has Come (1964-66)

After a decade-long cry for justice, a new sound is heard in the civil rights movement: the insistent call for power. Malcolm X takes an eloquent nationalism to urban streets as a younger generation of black leaders listens. In the South, Stokely Carmichael and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) move from “Freedom Now!” to “Black Power!” as the fabric of the traditional movement changes.

8- Two Societies (1965-68)

Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) come north to help Chicago’s civil rights leaders in their nonviolent struggle against segregated housing. Their efforts pit them against Chicago’s powerful mayor, Richard Daley. When a series of marches through all-white neighbourhoods draws violence, King and Daley negotiate with mixed results. In Detroit, a police raid in a black neighborhood sparks an urban uprising that lasts five days, leaving 43 people dead. The Kerner Commission finds that America is becoming “two societies, one black, one white, separate and unequal.” President Lyndon Johnson, who appointed the commission, ignores the report.

9- Power! (1966-68)

The call for Black Power takes various forms across communities in black America. In Cleveland, Carl Stokes wins election as the first black mayor of a major American city. The Black Panther Party, armed with law books, breakfast programs, and guns, is born in Oakland. Substandard teaching practices prompt parents to gain educational control of a Brooklyn school district but then lead them to a showdown with New York City’s teachers’ union.

10- The Promised Land (1967-68)

Martin Luther King stakes out new ground for himself and the rapidly fragmenting civil rights movement. One year before his death, he publicly opposes the war in Vietnam. His Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) embarks on an ambitious Poor People’s Campaign. In the midst of political organizing, King detours to support striking sanitation workers in Memphis, where he is assassinated. King’s death and the failure of his final campaign mark the end of a major stream of the movement.

11- Ain’t Gonna Shuffle No More (1964-72)

A call to pride and a renewed push for unity galvanize black America. World heavyweight champion Cassius Clay challenges America to accept him as Muhammad Ali, a minister of Islam who refuses to fight in Vietnam. Students at Howard University in Washington, D.C., fight to bring the growing black consciousness movement and their African heritage inside the walls of this prominent black institution. Black elected officials and community activists organize the National Black Political Convention in Gary, Indiana, in an attempt to create a unified black response to growing repression against the movement.

12- A Nation of Law? (1968-71)

Black activism is increasingly met with a sometimes violent and unethical response from local and federal law enforcement agencies. In Chicago, two Black Panther Party leaders are killed in a pre-dawn raid by police acting on information supplied by an FBI informant. In the wake of President Nixon’s call to “law and order,” stepped-up arrests push the already poor conditions at New York’s Attica State Prison to the limit. A five-day inmate takeover calling the public’s attention to the conditions leaves 43 men dead: four killed by inmates, 39 by police.

13- The Keys to the Kingdom (1974-80)

In the 1970s, antidiscrimination legal rights gained in past decades by the civil rights movement are put to the test. In Boston, some whites violently resist a federal court school desegregation order. Atlanta’s first black mayor, Maynard Jackson, proves that affirmative action can work, but the Bakke Supreme Court case challenges that policy.

14- Back to the Movement (1979-mid 80s)

Power and powerlessness. Miami’s black community — pummelled by urban renewal, a lack of jobs, and police harassment — explodes in rioting. But in Chicago, an unprecedented grassroots movement triumphs. Frustrated by decades of unfulfilled promises made by the city’s Democratic political machine, reformers install Harold Washington as Chicago’s first black mayor.

Study guide:

https://www.facinghistory.org/sites/default/files/publications/Eyes_on_the_Prize.pdf

Gregory Isaacs – “The Cool Ruler”

Gregory Isaacs is one of reggae music’s most distinguished singers. Famous as the “Cool Ruler” for his outstandingly smooth and moving voice, Isaacs recorded many successes during the 1970s and 80s, including the lasting favourite “Night Nurse”, and remained dynamic as a recording artist, live performer and producer in the decades that followed. Even though his best known for romantic ballads, delivered with an insinuation of helplessness, he also excelled at songs of social protest and work that expressed a resolute pride in his African heritage.

Gregory Anthony Isaacs was born in Kingston, Jamaica, on July 15 1951 and grew up in the poor neighbourhood of Denham Town. As a boy, Gregory was inspired by American soul artists such as Sam Cooke and Ben E King, by local acts and, above all, by the singing of his mother (whom his father abandoned when Gregory was a child). Encouraged by his peers at school and his teacher, he entered talent contests and soon became involved in the music industry, making his first (self-produced) recording in 1968; a duet with Winston Sinclair called “Another Heartache”.

 

After a brief period as part of a Motown-style trio named The Concords, who split in 1970, Isaacs launched his solo career. He founded African Museum with the singer Errol Dunkley, and had his first significant success with “My Only Lover”, often labelled the exemplary “lovers’ rock” song.

By the late 1970s, Isaacs was one of Jamaica’s major stars and frequently touring the United States and Britain. His casting as a street hustler in the 1978 movie Rockers aided to create the outlaw persona that would lead him later to claim of having been arrested more than 50 times.

As his songwriting abilities developed, Isaacs shifted attention to address social injustice, in work that expressed longing for his ancestral African homeland, and grew dreadlocks as a sign of his commitment to the Rastafarian faith. At Lee Perry’s Black Ark studio, he completed the anthem-like “Mr Cop” in 1976 and the censorious “Black against Black”, which decried self-destructive ghetto violence, and “Slave Master”, which became something of anti-colonial anthem in the slums of Kingston: “Every time I hear the music and I make a dip, a dip, Slave master comes around and spank I with his whip, the whip, But if I don’t get my desire, Then I’ll set the plantations in fire.”

Mainstream success, however, did not come until the 1982 album Night Nurse. The cheekily suggestive title track reached only number 32 in the UK charts, but it was a huge underground and club hit. But just when Isaacs might have capitalised on his biggest hit, he become caught in drug dealing and consumption, and found himself serving a six-month sentence in a Kingston jail. 

He was said to have both used and dealt crack cocaine. He struggled with addiction to various drugs – most of them far harder than the native ganja, or marijuana – eventually losing most of his teeth and the full range of his once-sweet voice. “Drugs are a debasing weapon,” he once said. “I graduated from the Cocaine High School. It was the greatest college ever, but the most expensive school fee ever paid.”

He returned in 1988 with the digital dance hall-era hit “Rumours”, one result of a fruitful period of collaboration with the producer Gussie Clark, and continued to record up to three albums a year during the last two decades of his life, appearing at festivals such as Jamaica’s Reggae Sunsplash and the Notting Hill Carnival as a respected if somewhat weakened elder statesman of Jamaican music. Nevertheless, he kept a faithful fan base, both at home in Jamaica and overseas.

“When people hear the name Gregory Isaacs, I want dem to think of ‘Night Nurse’ and ‘Red Rose For Gregory’ and ‘The Cool Ruler’,” he said. “I love it when somebody comes up to me and say, ‘I love your songs’. ‘Night Nurse’ is about a man and a woman. Only love can conquer war and it’s good for people to make love. The Gregory Isaacs feel is universal, trying to uplift who I can uplift. I sing music on a worldwide basis. That is made to be accepted in thy sight.”