In 1937, an English teacher at De Witt Clinton High School, Abel Meeropol, wrote the poem Strange Fruit:
Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies 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 magnolias, 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.
Later, Meeropol set the poem to music. It was recorded by Billie Holiday in 1939.
Why be grateful for such wrenching words? For the portrayal of such a gruesome scene? In words or in song?
Here we are served by George Santayana who observed, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The poem and song Strange Fruit portray the past in sickeningly stark honesty. Meeropol was Jewish. Could he have been thinking that remembering this harrowing past in America could influence the course of events in Europe? We don’t know.
But may we be grateful for those writers, musicians, scholars, and artists who help us to remember the past so that we are not condemned to repeat it.
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thinks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16