Lorraine Hansburry's upbringing and background impacted her writing, which ultimately helped to reshape America's view of the African American people. In looking at past generations of Hansburrys, it seems that Lorraine was destined to continue a family tradition of success. Raised as an upper middle class child in a racially divided but economically mixed community, Hansburry came to resent her different status, but learned to appreciate aspects which could be used to her advantage, such as her parent's relationships with prominent African American scholars and artists. Hansburry used her rich family history as the foundation for works which portrayed blacks in a light which destroyed many stereotypes used by popular media at the time. .
Lorraine Hansburry was born into a family with a legacy of education and determination. The starting point of Hansburry's family history is her paternal great grandfather, the child of a slave and her master. Born as a slave, William Hansburry could both read and write, which was extraordinary at the time, considering that educating a slave was illegal in most states during the 1850s.At the age of 15, William retrieved family treasure, which he had helped to bury, and used it to slowly buy land in rural Virginia. Mender Hansburry, one of William's three sons, used his inheritance to attend Alcorn College, where he was later hired, as well as finding his future wife, Ethal Woodward, a fellow Alcorn graduate. Their marriage produced six children including both respected scholar William Leo Hansburry, and Lorraine's father, successful businessman, Carl Hansburry. The story of Lorraine's mother, Nanny Hansburry, begins with Lorraine's great grandfather, escaped slave, George Perry. After his escape, Perry worked in New York, saving enough money to hire a reading and writing tutor. He eventually returned to Tennessee and bought his mother's freedom.