First in History

Lorraine Vivian Hansberry
May 19, 1930 to January 12, 1965

Born in Chicago to prominent parents, Lorraine Hansberry attended college at Wisconsin University for two years before leaving to pursue a career as a writer. In November of 1940, her parents won an Illinois Supreme Court case allowing the family to move to an all-white Chicago neighborhood.  Her play “A Raisin in the Sun” was loosely based on her childhood experience.


Hansberry briefly studied to be a painter before taking a job as a reporter and editor for the Paul Robeson headed Freedom Monthly Journal.  In 1953, she married Robert Nemiroff, a Jewish literary student and song writer. Thy developed marital problems and divorced in 1964. After her death due to pancreatic cancer in 1965, Nemiroff remained the person responsible for her literary affairs.

On March 11, 1959, Hansberry's play, A Raisin in the Sun opened on Broadway. The story examined the life of a Black family as they attempted to move into an all-white neighborhood.

Lorraine Hansberry won many awards for A Raisin in the Sun including:

                         - New York Drama Critics Circle Award 1959 (The first Black woman to receive the award, winning
                           over Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill and Archibald MacLeish)
                         - Screenwriter’s Guild Nomination for best Screenplay of the Year 1961
                         - Cannes Film Festival Gary Cooper Award 1961
                         - Tony Award 1973 for Raisin the Musical

A Raisin In the Sun was also the first Broadway play written by a Black woman and the first directed by a Black person, Lloyd Richards.

Other works include:

                        - A Raisin in the Sun 1959
                        - A Raisin in the Sun (screenplay) 1961
                        - A Raisin in the Sun TV film) 2008
                        - On Summer (essay)
                        - The Drinking Gourd 1960
                        - The Movement: Documentary of a Struggle for Equality 1964
                        - The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window 1965
                        - To Be Young, Gifted and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words 1969
                        - Les Blancs: The Collected Last Plays by Lorraine Hansberry edited by Robert Nemiroff 1994

Throughout her career, Lorraine Hansberry wrote and spoke out against racism and was an activist for the civil rights of Blacks, gays and lesbians.

Top L:
 Lorraine Hansberry, from post card. R: Grave marker. 

Reuben, Paul P. "Chapter 8: Lorraine Hansberry." PAL: Perspectives in American Literature - A Research and Reference Guide. Web.  


Site Visit
Lorraine Hansberry gravesite. Bethel Cemetery. Croton-on-Hudson, NY. 


Bethel Cemetery, located at the intersection of Radnor Avenue and Old Post Road, Croton-on-Hudson, NY 10520

Madam C. J. Walker (Sarah Breedlove)

December 23, 1867 to May 25, 1919

One of America's first Black female millionaires, Sarah Breedlove later known as Madam C. J. Walker, developed a corporation that made and sold hair care and skin lightening products to African American women.

Top L:
 Madam C.J. Walker, public domain. R: Ms. Walker and her daughter's gravestone. 

Bottom: Advertisement used to sell Ms. Walker's hair care products. 

"Madam C.J. Walker.", 

"Madam C.J. Walker.", Web. 

"The Sharecropper's Daughter Who Made Black Women Proud of the Hair." Web.  

Site Visit
Madam C. J. Walker gravesite. Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, NY. 

Woodlawn Cemetery, Webster Avenue and E. 233rd Street, Bronx, NY 10470. Phone: 718-920-0500, toll free: 877-496-6352.

Maggie Lena (Mitchell) Walker
July 15, 1864 to December 15, 1934

Maggie Lena Mitchell, daughter of Elizabeth Draper and William Mitchell, was born in Richmond, VA and educated in Richmond public schools. After graduating, Maggie Mitchell taught elementary school for three years.  In 1886, she married Armstead Walker Jr. and spent the majority of her time divided between raising her two sons Russell and Melvin and improving the benevolent society that she was a member of, the Independent Order of St. Luke. 

In 1901 Maggie Walker established St. Luke Herald Newspaper. In 1903 she founded St. Luke Penny Savings Bank and in doing so became the first women to be president of a bank. She created St. Luke Emporium in 1905. It was the first Black owned retail store in Richmond, VA and is believed to be one of the first Black owned retail stores in the country. As a member and trustee of the National Association of Colored Women, she was instrumental in persuading the group to purchase the home of Frederick Douglass and turn it into a museum and historical center. 

Top L:
 Maggie Walker Courtesy of the National Park Service, Maggie L. Walker National Historic site, R: Family Plot.

Second L: Monument at Maggie Walker's family plot. R: Her home located at 110 1/2 E. Leigh Street, Richmond, Virginia 23223, National Historic Site.                       
Third L: The St. Luke Building on St. James Street, Richmond, VA, 23223. R: Maggie Walker's grave monument.                       
Fourth L, R: Maggie Walker's gravestone.  

Fifth L: Husband's gravestone. R: Oldest son's gravestone. 

Bottom L: Gravestone of second oldest son, Melvin Walker. R: Gravestone of Ms. Walker's mother. 

 Continued next section.

Maggie Lena (Mitchell) Walker

In 1915, a neighbor reported to Russell, Maggie Walker's son, that a burglar was on the roof of their home. As Russell looked for the intruder, he saw someone in the house and fired his gun. It was his father that he shot and killed. Russell was charged, tried and found not guilty. Some people in the community questioned if Russell killed his father in order to be next in line for the family's inheritance.

Top L
: Stepfather and brother's gravestone. R: Aunt's grave stone. 

Bottom L: H. Maurice Payne, relationship unknown. R: Gravestone of friends. 

Appiah, Kwame, Anthony and Gates, Henry Louis, ed. "Africana The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience." 1st ed. New York: Civitas, 1999. Print.


William H. Sydnor. "Our Inspiration - The Story of Maggie Lena Walker.", Commonwealth Public Broadcasting, 1998. DVD.
"Maggie Walker.", Web. 

Site Visits
Maggie Lena (Mitchell) Walker gravesite. Evergreen Cemetery. Richmond, VA. 
Maggie Lena (Mitchell) Walker Home. Richmond, VA. 
St. Luke Building. Richmond, VA. 


Evergreen Cemetery, Evergreen Road, Richmond, VA.


Return to top


All photos property of unless otherwise indicated.