Strange Fruit

The Real History

"Strange Fruit"

Original poem by Abel Meeropol

Under the pseudonym (Lewis Allen)

A poem written in response to lynching’s in US southern states.

 

Southern trees bear a 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,
And the sudden smell of burning flesh!

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,


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

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Poet and spoken word artist Glenn North reading his poem “Lynch Family Blues”, inspired by Joseph Hirsch’s Lynch Family. ​

Meeropol wrote Strange Fruit after seeing Lawrence Beitler’s distressing photograph of the August 7,1930 lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Marion, Indiana in the New York Times.

"Strange Fruit" is a song written and composed by Abel Meeropol and recorded by Billie Holiday in 1939. The lyrics were drawn from a poem by Meeropol that was published in 1937.

The song protests the lynching of Black Americans. Its lyrics compare the victims to the fruit of trees. Such lynchings had reached a peak in the Midwest and Southern United States at the turn of the 20th century. The great majority of victims were Black.

The song has been called "a declaration" and "the beginning of the civil rights movement."

 

One of Billie Holiday's (Eleanora Fagan (April 7, 1915 – July 17, 1959) most iconic songs, "Strange Fruit," is a haunting protest against the inhumanity of racism. Many people know that the man who wrote the song was inspired by a photograph of a lynching. They might not realize that he is also tied to another watershed moment in America's history.

 

When Holiday decided to sing the song, it reached millions of people. While the lyrics never mention lynching, the metaphor is painfully clear. Soon after publication, Meeropol set the song to music. It was performed at union meetings and even at Madison Square Garden by the jazz singer Laura Duncan.

It was there that Robert Gordon, the new floor manager at the jazz club Café Society first heard Strange Fruit in 1938. He mentioned it to Barney Josephson, the club’s founder, and Meeropol was invited to play it for Holiday.

 

Rosenberg’s Meeropol and his wife adopted the two boys from Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were sentenced to death for conspiring to give atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. The Rosenbergs were also Communists. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were taken to prison after being found guilty of nuclear espionage. They were subsequently executed. The couple's trial and execution made national headlines. News accounts described it as "the first husband and wife to die in the electric chair."

New York lawmakers did not like "Strange Fruit." In 1940, Meeropol was called to testify before a committee investigating communism in public schools. They wanted to know whether the American Communist Party had paid him to write the song. They had not — but, like many New York teachers in his day, Meeropol was a Communist.

Abel Meeropol died in 1986. His sons, Robert and Michael, both became college professors.


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