Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood on the root,
Black bodies swinging in the summer 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 the fruit for 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.
The most famous version of the song “Strange Fruit” is by Billie Holiday. It was originally a poem written by Abel Meeropol, and Holiday recorded it in 1939. Many other artists have recorded their versions of the song. The song’s powerful lyrics depict bodies hanging from trees. The grotesque “strange and bitter crop” is obviously a metaphor for the African Americans who were subject to lynchings, which were happening all in of America, especially in the South, due to extreme racism and hate. The metaphor suggests that lynching blacks was almost considered a natural thing in the South, as observed in the line “Southern trees bear a strange fruit,” when it’s something so incredibly wrong and unnatural, so that it resolves itself into being absolutely bewildering; “strange.”
Some Harlem Renaissance themes in this song include “identification with race,” and “exploration of Negro heritage and history.” The entire song depicts the chilling racism that African Americans have faced in the past, and continue to face. Singing about this aspect of African American culture and history can be extremely depressing,
it’s nearly impossible to explore Negro heritage and history without acknowledging the pain. Exploring this pain can lead to identification with race.
I chose this song because it’s so powerful. I think it’s important to have artistic expressions of mass cultural pain, it adds meaning and determination to struggle. The song is also something that anyone interested in American history should listen to. The scar of racism across the face of America is exquisitely exemplified in this song. There is no sugar coating, and it’s beautifully written.