The song is called Strange Fruit, by Abel Meeropol.
Years ago, I purchased a CD of songs by the great recording artist, Billie Holliday. For me, there was such world weariness in her voice. The cover showed Billie at her loveliest, a light-skinned African-American beauty with a white gardenia in her hair.
The song begins.
On Southern trees, there hangs an odd fruit.
As the song progresses, it becomes clear she is singing about blacks who have been lynched – a truly strange and very bitter crop.
- In 1999, Time magazine named ‘Strange Fruit’ the ‘song of the century.’ The song was highly regarded and the 1939 record sold a million copies.
- Jim Crow laws existed to segregate blacks and whites.
- From the 1890s until the 1920s, many African-Americans were lynched in the effort to enforce white supremacy. There was a circus-like atmosphere to these atrocities.
- In some states, blacks and whites couldn’t work in the same room or stare out the same window.
- In some states, if a black touched a white woman, it was a death sentence.
- Blacks and whites could not be buried in the same cemetery.
- Interracial marriage was prohibited.
- Separate schools, churches, water fountains, and toilets were mandated.
- But lynchings did not happen only in the South.
- They were held in the North and other areas of the United States.
- Over 350,000 blacks served in World War 1.
- Yet, it would take another World War and Adolph Hitler’s racist views to begin to change attitudes in America.
- Then, in the 1950s, protesters participated in the civil rights movement to gain equal rights for African-Americans.