“Strange Fruit” has become a protest song over the years because it pulls no punches.
The referenced “fruit” are Black men and women who have been lynched in this country.
I imagine there was a time when you couldn’t drive through the South without seeing Black bodies casually hanging from trees in the distance.
According to the Tuskegee Institute, over 4,000[i] human beings were murdered by lynching between 1883 and 1941 in the United States. “Strange Fruit” details the brutality and horror of this widely accepted and practiced act of mob murder during slavery and beyond.
Nina Simone’s delivery adds a layer of heartbreak to an already gut-wrenching song. The music is sparse, allowing Nina’s voice to be the prevalent instrument. You can feel the pain and disgust in every syllable.
I can see their distorted faces when she croons:
Them big bulging eyes, and twisted mouth
Can you smell the bodies in the Southern heat?
For the sun to rot, for the leaves to drop
Sadly, this song is as relevant in 2020 as it was when it was originally recorded by Billie Holiday in 1939. While public lynchings have fallen out of favor as a way to end a Black life, we’re still very much in the fight to prove our value and right to live. This is why we say Black Lives Matter.
(Editor’s note: The video below contains images of lynchings)
Danielle Motley is a writer who focuses on the medium of film and television. She’s known for creating stories that center around flawed, nuanced Black female protagonists with myriad experiences not unlike her own. Her most recent feature film screenplay focuses on what the world today would look like had Africans taken Europeans as slaves and used them to build America. Danielle is from San Diego and is a married mother of three.
A donation has been made to: Black Lives Matter
Black Lives Matter Foundation, Inc. is a global organization in the US, UK, and Canada, whose mission is to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes. By combating and countering acts of violence, creating space for Black imagination and innovation, and centering Black joy, we are winning immediate improvements in our lives.
[i] Seguin and Rigby, National Crimes: A New National Data Set of Lynchings in the United States, 1883 to 1941 https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2378023119841780