Home » Lakeville Journal Opinionviewpoint Guest Commentary » Lorraine Hansberry, James Baldwin, Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier and more

Lorraine Hansberry, James Baldwin, Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier and more

Sovereign State

Afriend telling me she is reading James Baldwin’s “Giovanni’s Room” gets me thinking about an iconic photo of Baldwin and Lorraine Hansberry, sitting on a couch with cigs and drinks before them, when people did those sorts of things.
Hansberry had written “A Raisin in the Sun,” done on Broadway with Sidney Poitier, who died two years ago in Barbados (if only I could die there), at age 94.
With the success of “Raisin,” which later became a musical, entitled by the shortened name, Hansberry was besieged by the press to give her thoughts about Blacks in America.  She very succinctly said that she did not want to opine about her race.  She wasn’t writing generally about them, but quite specifically writing about one family on Chicago’s Great South Side on one block in one specific apartment.  Nothing general about it.
A memory surfaces.  Poitier and Harry Belafonte,  who just died at 96, on the Johnny Carson show.  The occasion.  Both Black men, both from the islands, were turning 50.  Carson asked Belafonte what it felt like.  He went on.  And on.  Carson looked as If Harry would never stop.  Finally, he did.  Carson, not easy to ruffle, turned to
Poitier, who stood up, went right down to the camera, did a perfect pirouette and returned to his seat, having uttered not a syllable.
I have heard that Poitier and his wife came to Salisbury, looking to buy a house.  They stayed with people on Salmon Kill Road.  They did not buy a house.  O, what we missed!  At the fruit display at La Bonne’s (which was then Shagroy)  Sidney,  how do these mineolas compare to those in Jamaica?
Hansberry and Baldwin.  Both gay.  A Black friend, who has been living with HIV for decades — I am not talking out of school, he is quite open about this — and who, on his third try just won a Tony, said to me years ago that if the Black community could ever get over its homophobia and realize the power and wealth that Black gays have, then finally some things could get accomplished.
I don’t have time or space to recount the anti-gay, anti-women attitudes that rappers and others have expressed.  I can only say I believe my friend is right.
A classmate’s father was the Executive Director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai Brith.  At his funeral service, my friend gave the eulogy in Manhattan, the most stirring eulogy I have ever heard.  I was in the back and I noticed the great Bayard Rustin, stalwart of the Civil Rights Movement, and a gay man.  A man who was largely ostracized by the Movement.  I remember his silver-tipped cane.  The cane with which he would have tapped his way into our hearts.  If only we had let him.
A photo of Belafonte and Martin Luther King, Jr. comes to mind.  The Princeton professor Eddie  Glaude suggests that King was uncomfortable with Baldwin’s  gayness.  I am guessing that Poitier and Belafonte would have had no such problem.


Lonnie Carter is a playwright, Obie winner and his signature play is “The Sovereign State of Boogedy Boogedy.”

More Information

TriCorner News

Copyright The Lakeville Journal
PO Box 1688, Lakeville, CT 06039
All Rights Reserved

Policies, including Privacy and Ethics

Support Local Journalism