In the spring of 1937, Carl Hansberry purchased a three-flat at 6140 South Rhodes Avenue, just south of Washington Park. He moved in with his family on the morning of June 15. The trouble started that evening.
Hansberry, his wife, and their children were sitting in the living room with some friends. Two bricks smashed through the front window. No one was hurt. The police were called, and they posted a guard around the property.
Carl Hansberry was a black man moving into an all-white neighborhood. In those times, in many parts of America, that was enough to provoke violence.
African Americans were already living north and west of the park. None had moved into the area to the south. Two days after the attack on his home, six of Hansberry’s new neighbors filed suit against him for $100,000 in the Circuit Court of Cook County. He was accused of engaging in a conspiracy to violate a restrictive covenant.
The Circuit Court ruled against Hansberry, ordering his family to move. The decision was appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court. Again the restrictive covenant was upheld. The only place left to go was the United States Supreme Court.
Anna M. Lee was one of the white signers of the restrictive covenant. Now the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of Hansberry v. Lee. In an unanimous decision, the court ruled in favor of Hansberry on November 13, 1940.
Carl Hansberry did not see that day. He died in 1946.
Hansberry’s youngest daughter, Lorraine, later became a celebrated writer. She was 7 years old when the family moved into the Rhodes three-flat. Her most famous play, A Raisin in the Sun, was partly based on her childhood experiences there. The building at 6140 South Rhodes Avenue is privately owned.