“Strange Fruit”: Great Song. American Disgrace

September 13th, 2014 § 0 comments

In the wake of frightening events in Missouri, HG/BSK watched a wrenching video of Billie Holiday singing the anti-lynching song “Strange Fruit.” It was in 1946 that young HG heard Holiday sing the song during her appearance at the Club Onyx on New York’s W.52nd Street (then known as “Swing Street.”). As was her custom. lights were dimmed (only a spot on Holiday’s face) as she sang “Strange Fruit.” At the end, all lights went out. No encore. HG nursed a beer at the bar and Holiday moved HG to tears. The song was written by a Jewish, Bronx high school teacher, Abel Meeropol. He wrote the song after seeing a photo of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, two young African-American men, hanging from a tree following an Aug. 7, 1930 lynching in southern Indiana. The lynching of African-American men (most prevalent in the South) was very much part of American life for many years. Lynch mobs (and their leaders) were seldom prosecuted. The Dyer Anti-Lynching Law (which would have made lynching a federal offense), was introduced in the House of Representatives in 1918 and was passed but was defeated in the Senate by a Southern filibuster. This established a disgraceful pattern. Some 200 anti-lynching measures were introduced (the last in 1956) but all were blocked by Southern Senators. In 2005, the United States Senate issued a formal apology for its actions. Deemed superfluous by later civil rights legislation, the United States has, in fact, never passed an anti-lynching law. (A sidebar: Abel Meeropol, a Communist, and his wife, adopted the two sons of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg following their execution for espionage. According to the boys, they had a happy childhood with the Meeropols. They recalled Meeropol as an uproariously funny household comic and mimic. Our days were filled with laughter, said the boys).

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