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Some Dream of Comfort, Some for Freedom

'Raisin' cast

A Raisin in the Sun producer Neil Meron (far left) and director Kenny Leon (third from right) stand with actors Sanaa Lathan (from left), Sean Combs, Phylicia Rashad, Audra McDonald and John Stamos. Getty Images hide caption

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"What happens to a dream deferred?"

Do kids still memorize that poem?

I know I did. I know that I could recite it at the age of, I don't know, nine or so. We didn't have MLK day when I was growing up. Reciting poems was the kind of thing that your church or Girl Scouts might have you do. There might be an essay contest, or something. You might win a savings bond (remember those?) for the best essay on what it all meant.

As I think back on it, how could we have known what that poem meant? But in other ways, we knew all too well.

Speaking of Girl Scouts, I was at a Girl Scouts meeting (Brownie troop) the night the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was killed. I remember that all the mothers swooped in to collect us from whatever we were doing that day — macaroni art or some such. Our troop met at the community room in the apartment house across the boulevard from where we lived, and although the mothers came flying in with an urgency, that made it a bit frightening. I do remember that most stayed around for some time that night murmuring to each other in low, angry and tearful voices. We knew better than to ask what they were talking about (grown folks' business), but we all knew it was serious and we'd know soon enough.

The riots came soon. My father, a firefighter, did not come home for many days. I remember he told us to keep water jars filled in case the water pressure fell either from the water needed to fight the fires, or the electricity going in and out. We couldn't visit our friends. We stayed inside. I don't remember it happening to any schools, but I do remember a small supermarket near our house being burned. I don't remember who owned it or why it was burned, I do remember it was one that my mother hated to shop in because the food was of poor quality and overpriced. And she thought the people who worked there were rude.

That may be why "A Raisin in the Sun," the play that takes its name from the Langston Hughes poem I quoted above, still makes sense to me, even though it was written by Lorraine Hansberry in 1955, first staged in 1959 and made a movie in 1961. A new adaptation premieres tonight on ABC. It's a made-for-television version of the revised Broadway play that starred Sean Combs (entertainment mogul ... if you've been living on Mars and don't know ... aka Puff Daddy, Puffy, P. Diddy and Diddy), Audra McDonald, and Phylicia Rashad. Lorraine Hansberry was the first African American woman to have a play produced on Broadway; Phylicia Rashad continued the history when she became the first African American woman to win a Tony Award (Best Actress) for her role as Lena Younger, the matriarch of the family, whose insurance check is coming with hopes that it will change their lives.

Dreams. We all have them. Some of us dream of comfort, some for freedom, some for understanding.

We talked about dreams last week in our conversation about Kosovo independence. We featured three young Kosovar Albanians who talked about their happiness at Kosovo's declaration of Independence. We promised you additional perspectives. Today, we featured a roundtable of young Serbs studying and working in the U.S., who offered their perspective. Needless to say, it was a very different perspective. One of loss ... and resentment at being misunderstood. I should mention that Obrad Kesic, one of our guests, is a well-known policy analyst. You will probably hear from him again as this situation unfolds, but we also believe the student perspective is an important one and we hope to bring it to you whenever possible.

Finally, change is coming to Cuba ... or not ...

Our great Tom Gjelton was with us again to bring us up to date, along with Brian Latell, who is well-known to many of you for his work at the University of Miami and his book, After Fidel: The Inside Story of Castro's Regime and Cuba's Next Leader. The book could not be more timely.

Tomorrow, sex and the single dad. I hope you are intrigued ...



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Hillary played all "nice-nice" with us Negroes down in New Orleans, but then comes the photo of Barack in traditional Somali Muslim garb. I'm angry as all get-out about it, but not about the photo, but the response by Maggie Williams, Hillary's campaign manager ". "If Barack Obama's campaign wants to suggest that a photo of him wearing traditional Somali clothing is divisive, they should be ashamed. Hillary Clinton has worn the traditional clothing of countries she has visited and had those photos published widely."

Apparently, the Clinton campaign thinks that we are all so dumb that we won't get the coded suggestions especially after staffers have been fired for distributing false emails about Barack as a Muslim.

For my money, they have destroyed any cache they had with black America. It is the end of any respect I have for them. Any good that has been done is gone. I'm so mad I could spit.

Sent by James Hudgens | 9:36 PM | 2-25-2008

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the explosions in the play, "A Raisin in the Sun," are strictly metaphorical and happen within the family whose dream of home ownership is deferred when the son squanders the insurance money by investing it in a fraudulent liquor store scheme.

But the family's "dream" of moving into a better neighborhood (which, in this case, also means "integrating" that neighborhood) is ultimately not "deferred" or discouraged by a warning that they will not be welcomed there.

A few years ago I read two books (Arc of Justice by Kevin Boyle and One Man's Family by Phillis Vine) about a case of residential integration by a black doctor in Detroit in 1925 that did explode and subsequently became an important early civil rights case. But we don't know at the end of Hansberry's play whether that will be the outcome of the family's decision to move.

Now there's another possible level of meaning to the play (and to the metaphor of the deferred dream, as well), according to the co-producer of the ABC-TV version of "A Raisin in the Sun," who I believe claims that lesbian and homophobic subtexts (which I wasn't aware of) of the play are brought out in the current production.

Regardless of what Langston Hughes may have intended the explosion to signify (and if it's true that the poem was published in 1951, it would have been preceded by the 1935 and 1943 Harlem riots, which, I believe the great Ralph Ellison drew on to create the novel, "Invisible Man"), and so it seems possible that Lorraine Hansberry's interpretation of the Hughes metaphor of explosion is autonomous of his.

Sent by Mike | 2:49 PM | 2-27-2008