Several days ago, I wrote about the poem and song, “Strange Fruit” which describes lynchings in the southern United States. I have recently read Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday, Café Society, and An Early Cry for Civil Rights by David Margolick written in 2000. That propelled me to YouTube to watch videos of the song performed by various artists starting with Billie Holiday. Yes, her performance is emotionally wrenching to watch as are the renditions of the song by Nina Simone and other African American artists.
Then I noticed a more recent performance, 2013, by Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa. These people are white. Hm. What would that be like? I was skeptical. I watched the video. And I watched it again. And again. The vocals. The guitar. Haunting? Breathtaking? Tortured beauty? It’s hard to describe. You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Qf_aytrlpQ
That performance led me to new thoughts about lynching. Yes, it is horrific to think about what it was like for black people to be the victims of such heinous evil. Again, hard to find human language to talk about something so inhumane. I am white. Can I say I am grateful that I am not black and was not subject to that depravity?
But watching the Hart/Bonamassa video stirred a different perspective within me. Here were these white people putting on such an authentic, pained, gut-wrenching performance. Maybe it is better to be black, to be associated with the victim rather than the perpetrator of such horror. Maybe it is worse to be white and to know that people of your kind did this, lynched people, hung them from a tree. With no semblance of justice involved. Can some say I’m grateful that I’m not white and not associated with behaving with such depravity?
We revisit this topic today, the 104th anniversary of the lynching of John Evans who was lynched in St. Petersburg near MLKing St. and 2nd Ave. S. by a mob of 1500 white people.
Can we be grateful? White and black? Can we be grateful that such a horror would not happen in St. Petersburg today? Can we be grateful that we are making progress in confronting racism? We have not come far enough. There is still a long way to go. But I am grateful that the majority of our society wants to end racism in the United States.
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16