Strange Fruit

Strange Fruit

Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body 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 magnolia 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.

I had never heard this song before, nor did I know the story behind it. I was listening to ‘Talk of the Nation‘ on the radio today, and they were talking about Billie Holiday, amongst other things, and brought up this song. It’s chilling.

You can read about the history of the song, and its inspiration in the famous picture of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, two black men lynched in Marion, IN, in 1930.

5 thoughts on “Strange Fruit

  1. I had read an article regarding this song and the hobby some people down South had of collecting and sending postcards depicting and making light of lynchings. I was aghast: first of my own ignorance of this because it had been completely absent from all of my American history classes, even in college and I had MINORED IN HISTORY, and secondly because it was obviously so macabre and inhumane. I just cannot relate to such a horrifically animal mindset. And I’m glad.

  2. It’s an astonishing, compelling, horrible song and I think I have it in a number of versions. I’m not sure if she’s ever actually covered but the themes resonate through much of the work of Diamanda Galas too (start with Malediction and Prayer, incidentally, if you’re unfamiliar with her).

  3. I’m re-reading Toni Morrison’s “Song of Solomon” lately, which covers similar ground, including some African-Americans’ vengeance for hate crimes like this.

    Yet no one distills it like Holiday’s song. Sometimes it seems like so little progress is made. Other times, we seem to make fragile progress, and the past seems an alien country.

  4. I’d heard of this song before – I minored in African American studies at SDSU. We learned about this in one of my African American history classes. It was quite stunning and bone chilling hearing the lyrics sung with so much pain and poignancy by Billie Holiday…I’m not surprised that American history books excise, marginalize and dehumanize the experiences of other minorities.

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