Global Council for Tolerance and Peace

Remembering the Past: How a song and new memorial are reinvigorating discussions on slavery

By: Benjamin Lutz

“Southern trees bear strange fruit

Benjamin Lutz

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”

 

This haunting song revolves around the history of Lynching in the United States. Lynching is a particularly brutal way of control, used especially against black slaves, by hanging them from trees in front of a crowd. This murderous method is very much apart of American history, however, most people are unaware of these occurrences. This powerful song, sung by the even more powerful Billie Holiday, began to raise awareness of this reality of American history.

Its legacy lives on as many more contemporary artists continue to do renditions of this song to discuss modern social issues around diversity, inclusion, and tolerance in American society. Not only does this song serve as a reminder of its brutal past, but also it highlights the inequalities that perpetuate throughout communities. Discussions of respect, engagement, and peacebuilding can begin with the troubling imagery in this song. Understanding the past in all its grim detail can ameliorate the situation of the present for a more peaceful future.

In March of 2018, a new memorial was officially opened in Montgomery, Alabama, dedicated to the over 4,000 documented lynchings as well as the history of slavery in the United States. The National Memorial for Peace and Justice has reinvigorated the discussions around America’s history, especially in the vein of lynching. The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is the spearheading organization of this project to educate more people on the overlooked parts of history.

“Strange Fruit” and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice have allowed for dialogue, understanding, and peace-building between divided communities. America’s history with slavery is shown through this song and memorial as stark as it was, in order for modern communities to collaborate, cooperate, and coexist.

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