Carl Augustus Hansberry (1895-1946)

Carl A. Hansberry, Sr. was a successful African American real estate broker and entrepreneur who personally fought for civil rights and equality before the dawn of the civil rights movement.  Carl was married to Nannie Louise Perry, a school teacher, ward committeewoman, and socialite who hosted figures like Joe Louis, Langston Hughes, and Paul Robeson.  In 1937, Carl Hansberry bought a house in an all-white Chicago neighborhood that banned African Americans from living within its borders.  Local white residents and officials exhibited extreme opposition and hostility toward the family.  Through this ordeal, the Hansberry family courageously faced hostile and aggressive neighbors in a city where white bigotry and intimidation was at least as bad as it was in the deep-south, if not worse.  This is evident when Martin Luther King jr. marched through Chicago 30 years later to fight against housing discrimination, both he and Ralph Abernathy agreed that they received a worse reception in Chicago by whites, than they did in the South.  In fact, while marching in Chicago, Martin Luther King jr. was injured when he was hit with a stone by angry whites.  More than ten cars of demonstrators were set on fire, and King stated that he had “never seen as much hatred and hostility on the part of so many people.” Further in a videotaped interview King admitted that of all the marches he had led, that he was the most afraid for his life during the march in Chicago!  Carl Hansberry, his wife Nannie Louise Hansberry, and their four children had to face Chicago's brand of aggression and racism everyday while living in their new home.  Carl Hansberry’s daughter Lorraine, who was only in elementary school at the time, wrote about her family’s ordeal in the book To be Young, Gifted and Black, where Lorraine describes “living in a hellishly hostile ‘white neighborhood’ in which literally howling mobs surrounded our house” and how she was “spat at, cursed and pummeled in the daily trek to and from school.”

Local white officials not only endeavored to force the Hansberry family to move, but to add further insult to injury and punish Carl Hansberry for daring to move into their neighborhood, a white signatory of the restrictive housing covenant filed a lawsuit against Carl Hansberry, and another African American for $100,000.  The circuit court ruled in favor of the white plaintiff for Hansberry to pay damages, so the defendants took the case to the Supreme Court of Illinois, and this court upheld the decision, not just forcing the Hansberry’s to move, but also ordering the confiscation of their property!  The case was taken to the U.S. Supreme Court which led to the landmark case Hansberry v. Lee (1940), and on November 13, 1940, the court overturned the ruling.

In 1938, Carl Hansberry was involved in another equal rights legal suit to protest segregation on our nation's trains.  In Civil Action Case 234, Carl Hansberry vs. The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway (1938), Carl protested the practice of racially segregating African American train passengers into inferior cars.  Carl Hansberry claimed that the Santa Fe railroad company “charged African-Americans first-class fares, but relegated them to third-class passenger cars.”

Also, to help other African Americans who were discriminated against and inform them of their civil rights, the family created the Hansberry foundation.  However, frustrated by the discrimination and the systematic racism within the United States, Carl Hansberry planned to move his family to Mexico, but sadly he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage while visting the country and died there on March 7, 1946.  The Hansberry family's experience with racial discrimination in Chicago served as the inspiration for his daughter Lorraine Hansberry's award-winning Broadway play, A Raisin in the Sun, which was a monumental African American work.


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