The Lynching That Inspired Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit"
Start writing a post
Entertainment

The Lynching That Inspired Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit"

"Black Bodies Swinging In The Southern Breeze"

1585
The Lynching That Inspired Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit"
https://10protestsongs.wikispaces.com/file/view/Billie_Holiday-Strange_Fruit-postcard_image.jpg/235664506/426x321/Billie_Holiday-Strange_Fruit-postcard_image.jpg

Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.


Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.


Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.


My 16 year old brother wanted the most awkward poem to perform at his class's poetry slam, and that is how I was introduced to Strange Fruit.

"It deals with America and the black and white problem. Really, the ugliness of it. That is about the ugliest song I have ever heard" - Nina Simone

The Equal Justice Initiative has recently documented 3959 lynchings of black people in twelve Southern states between the years 1877 and 1950. This is at least 700 more lynchings than previously reported, and serves to prove that racial terror lynchings were more abundant than previously thought. This poem, turned into song, was one of the first nationwide protests made against cruelty towards blacks. It was one of the first steps taken that spurred the Civil Rights Movement. It has a place in history, and yet, is not remembered today.

"Strange Fruit was originally composed in protest of lynching by Abel Meerpol in 1937 after viewing this famous photograph:

The picture is a black and white window to a tragic and unforgivable event. Four black teens were arrested for the alleged rape of a young white woman, Mary Ball, and murder of a young white man, Claude Deeter. Their names were James Cameron, Abram Smith, Thomas Shipp, and Robert Sullivan. Sullivan was released after a brutal interrogation while the other three were forced to spend the night in jail.

In the middle of the night a mob arrived and broke into the cells. After they were beaten to the brink of death, Thomas Shipp was originally hung from the bars of the prison. Abram Smith was dragged to the nearest tree and hung. When he struggled to get free from the noose, he was taken down, stabbed, and both of his arms were broken before he was tied back into the tree. They moved Thomas’s body to string him up in the tree as well.

The last boy, James Cameron, was about to be hung when someone pretested that he was too young and had nothing to do with the murder or rape. The mob released him. James was relocated to another prison and, during trial, Mary Ball admitted that she had not been raped. Although it was proven that James had nothing to do with the events, he spent four years in prison. Later in his life, working as a black and lynching activist, he founded America’s Black Holocaust Museum. He died in 2006 at the age of 92.


The poem was inspired by that picture of the lynching. Soon afterwards it gained popularity through Billie Holiday's sung version, although other famous artists have covered the song such as Nina Simone. More recently, India Arie recorded it on her album Songversation and Kanye West sampled Nina Simone's version on his tracks "Blood on the Leaves" and it's also referenced in his track "New Slaves".

At first I didn't like the song. The way Billie Holiday sings it isn't enjoyable whatsoever. It took a second for me to remember that this is not a song meant to be liked. It's supposed to be disturbing, just as the subject is disturbing. There is no beauty in bodies hanging from trees. Referring to them as "fruit" implies that this was a common sight and acceptable.

We need to look back at our history and acknowledge the horror of it. This is a poem worthy of remembrance.


Report this Content
This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
Entertainment

50 Iconic Quotes From 'The Golden Girls' That Will Always Make You Laugh

"People waste their time pondering whether a glass is half empty or half full. Me, I just drink whatever's in the glass."

3060

"The Golden Girls" created history when it first premiered in 1985 setting the stage of strong-willed female characters who are aging gracefully with dignity. It is a treasure trove filled with humorous scenes and situations that will always be relevant to watch. I still rejoice in watching these spectacular women embrace life with full stride and the way they always strive to focus on the brighter side of life.

These 4 dynamic and awe-inspiring women taught us that age is indeed nothing more than a number and that we can set out to accomplish anything our heart desires at any time.

Keep Reading... Show less
Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixaba

Unfortunately, the time is here. It is officially the spring semester, and you know what that means: lots and lots of studying. If you are in the same situation I am, then you are probably doing your 3rd semester of online/hybrid school. Not being at school or not attending classes in person definitely makes learning and studying a lot harder. Because I know this struggle all too well, I put together a list of study tips to hopefully help us all succeed a little more this semester.

Keep Reading... Show less
Swoon

8 Valentine's Day Gift Ideas For Your Long-Distance Partner

Looking for a gift idea for your long-distance Valentine's date this year? Here are some creative, thoughtful gifts for you!

56084
Photo by Ben Collins on Unsplash

As Valentine's Day approaches, I realized that it's the first Valentine's Day I have had with my boyfriend that we're more than 6,000 miles apart. Despite the distance though, my mind has been reeling over what to get him, as one of my main love languages is gift-giving. So here are some ideas that I've seen that I think would be perfect for any relationship, whether you're together or apart.

Keep Reading... Show less
Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

To be perfectly honest, I wasn't sure how to write this article.

In the past, I've written about the lies we tell ourselves. I've written about how thoughts can be destructive, how they can have power over who we are.

Keep Reading... Show less
Adulting

Put Down Your Phone And Read These 8 Statistics About Texting And Driving You Wish Didn't Exist

We text all the time, so it's no surprise you may find yourself wanting to pick up your phone even when you're driving.

17189

You're driving to the grocery store when your phone buzzes in your pocket. You instinctively reach to check it, but it can wait until you park. These are eight statistics to read before you text and drive because they'll change how you view your time on the road.

Everyone's made the mistake of looking at their phone while in the driver's seat, but not everyone gets home safely afterward. Learn why it's better to avoid distracted driving so you don't become one of these statistics this year:

Keep Reading... Show less
Health and Wellness

I Have An Eating Disorder And I Refuse To Let It Kill Me

Even at my lowest, the number on the scale never seemed low enough... but was it ever worth the risk of losing my life?

11725
Trigger warning: This article discusses topics that may be triggering for some readers.

I looked down at my thumb today. I know haven't been eating enough. I told everyone I would get all my vitamins and calories in. I totally wanted to eat more of the guacamole I bought the other day, but I counted what I had eaten and those numbers seemed a little too high. I decided I didn't need the extra helping, so I went to bed and the guacamole went bad.

Keep Reading... Show less

When pursuing a degree that most deem 'useless' or a 'waste of time' there happens to be a lot of self-doubt and fear, especially with the pending doom of graduation around the corner. I remember when I was about to graduate from college with a Bachelor's in Acting, I was absolutely terrified.

Keep Reading... Show less
Lifestyle

TikTok Made Me Buy It: Flawless's Skincare Fridge

I bought and tested one of TikTok's popular products so you don't have to.

117100

I spend a lot of time on TikTok and I never know whether the products I see are worth it or not, especially when I'm looking at the price. For Christmas, my aunt got me a gift card to Ulta. I didn't know what to buy. I have way too many palettes and lipsticks. I have my essentials. What else could I need? Then it hit me that I saw a lot of people these past few months showing off their skincare fridges. So, the second I thought of it I went on the Ulta app and bought it. So, here are my thoughts.

Keep Reading... Show less
Facebook Comments