Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Strange Fruit

Having spent some time considering James Cone's theological reflections on the connection between the Christian cross and the Southern lynching tree--ironically and hypocritically, the form of execution adopted by Whites who claimed to be Christians--I will conclude by simply sharing the lyrics to the moving song, 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.

Use this link to hear Billie Holiday's moving rendition of "Strange Fruit":http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4ZyuULy9zs.

Our nation's legacy of racism and race relations leaves us with much work to be done together, today.



chris said...

There is enough racism on both sides to go around. Someone is always eager to play the race card, even when it doesn't apply.

Larry James said...

chris, I fear you don't understand much about racism. Racism is not equal to simple prejudice. No, racism has to do with power and its use. Racists are persons who have the power to impose the consequences of their prejudice and advantage on another group of people. As in lynchings.

To say that "there is enough racism on both sides" is to reveal a fundamental blindness regarding the difference in the experiences of white people in this nation and that of blacks.

No one is "eager to play the race card" here. But I do have a commitment to attempt to help whites understand the background to and the context of race relations in our cities today. If you think the history doesn't matter or should simply be dismissed as irrelevant, you are badly mistaken.

Daniel Gray said...

Larry, I listened to the Bill Moyer interview last night, and I it was definitely even more powerful than Cone's essay.

I listened to Holiday's version this morning. I think I read somewhere that she stopped singing it on stage after several years, because she couldn't sing it without coming to tears. I don't know how one can read those words without getting a sense of the ugliness and sadness of racism.

Have you listened to the Stanford version yet? I'd be interested to know if you like it. (I confess, I like their version better than Holiday's.)

Strange Fruit

Anonymous said...


Please tell me you're kidding.

As Larry points out, even if there is "racism," or prejudice, by Blacks against Whites, there is simply not the same history or capacity to do harm. White people were never slaves or legally second class. They were the ones holding Black people in such positions. I'm certainly not excusing Black prejudice, but it just isn't the same.

Chris said...

Two of the biggest racist are Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. They are a couple of con men who would probably be peddling the Brooklyn Bridge to foreign tourists if their black leader gig hadn't worked out.

I suggest reading more of Thomas Sowell and Bill Crosby.

A quote from Sowell:

"If you have always believed that everyone should play by the same rules and be judged by the same standards, that would have gotten you labeled a radical 60 years ago, a liberal 30 years ago and a racist today."

Larry James said...

Chris, not sure you get it.

Greg said...

You're being nice. I'm sure Chris does not get it.

Chris said...

Columnist Lenoard Pitts said that what appears to be black racism actually is just acts of crime and rudeness from the perpetnators and tough luck for the recipiants.

Identical actions inflected by whites would be called racism and would be considered intolerable.

James Robinson wrote the book, "Racism or Attitude: The Ongoing Struggle for Black Liberation and Self Esteem." In the book he discusses the fact that high crime rates among blacks is worse now than in the 1930's, 40's and 50's when blacks were severely discriminated against. He suggests that blacks uses racism as a device to unify them to blacks lower down on the totem pole, to say,"Hey, I'm not doing so good because I'm still black and therefore discriminated against." Good book.

Becky said...

Oh man. I don't see how anyone can read the lyrics of Strange Fruit- so gut-wrenching, disturbing, they absolutely chill me to the bone, and then make comments about how blacks are racists too and racism isn't a factor today and history isn't important...blah blah blah...it just shocks the heck out of me. really. To think that lynchings occurred even as late as 1968. Just thinking about this makes me sick to my stomach, literally I feel like throwing up because of the horror of it. How could a mob of white men take it upon themselves to rob a black person, a young man full of potential, of his life in a tortuous way. And to think this was happening less than 40 years ago. How could the deep down feelings on behalf of the whites behind these types of murders be resolved, disappear in only 40 years. It just is not possible. It will take a longer time in our history for racism to be exterminated. To say that blacks have no effects now of the racism that ran so rampant just decades ago is unrealistic and embarrassing. Of course people have responsibilities and must make a way for themselves, but to ignore a major historical problem and the consequences of that problem that are still affecting generations today is a mistake.

Daniel Gray said...

Well said Becky.

I get annoyed by people who want to start a theoretical/philosophical discussion about racism, because it lacks reality. Most of us can't even imagine or understand. And yet these words provide a glimpse into the ugliness of racism that my white culture is responsible for.

I really don't understand how someone can read those words and suddenly begin a discussion that racism is a non-issue.

I'm only a generation removed from the prevalence of lynchings... I agree, racism is far from dead.

Larry James said...

Becky and Daniel, great comments about a horrible reality in our national life. If you review the photos of lynchings (these photos were turned into post cards often, if you can imagine that!), you will note that the crowd is not just a few angry white men, but whole families and huge crowds of people who showed up to witness lynchings.

Chris, what you fail to recognize is the deadly connection of power wtih prejudice and hate. It is the power to inflict suffering, unfair rules from a systemic perspective and disadvantage that equals racism. Your self-righteious pontification is not helpful. And, just for the record, no one here is arguing against personal responsibility, etc. The fact that you jumped from lynching to this standard white lecture reveals about all I need to know about your worldview. Just curious, but what was your personal response to the days of the Civil Rights Movement (1954-1968)? What was your community's response?

Waymon said...

Both interesting and disturbing comments on these pages. Thanks, Larry, for making us think about these matters that still impact our people, of all colors, black and white. Would encourage all, Chris in particular, to read "Making Whiteness: The Culture of Segregation in the South, 1890-1940," by Elizabeth Hale. Larry, you're right about lynchings as public affairs, complete with families, and friends, and collecting souvenirs. Dr. Hale describes its horror in terms of "deadly amusements" and "theater." A shameful thing upon the face of America and its people. It won't go away because we try to wish it away. It is our legacy and only in Christ can reconciliation with others and ourselves occur.

Would also recommend a read of Friday, September 21, 2007 at letjusticeroll.blogspot.com to see a discussion of "lynchings of various sorts."


Chris said...

Larry, I was all in agreement with the Civil Rights Movement. At the time, in 1957, I was a nursing student halfway between Central High School and Philander Smith College where James Cone was a student.

But there is a glaring double standard. Two examples.

In 1998 you remember the tragic murder of James Byrd, who was dragged behind a truck by three white men who gave him a ride. It was on the news for weeks. Jesse Jackson presided at his funeral. Al Sharpton and many Senators and Representatives were there along with Houston Mayor Lee Brown. ABC news website ran a headline "Hate is Growing in America."

Fast forward to 2001. A white man was offered a ride by three black men. They ended up beating him and then ran over him with a truck.

I doubt if many people outside of Jasper, Tx. heard of this. It happened very close to where James Byrd was murdered. Same town. No Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton or any congressman were there.

In Pasadena, Tx. a few days ago two black men took a crowbar and broke into a house. They were shot by the neighbor, a white man. This made national news. I will guarantee you if two white men broke into a house and were shot by a black man it wouldn't have made it to the news in Dallas. Why? Because his death had no political currency for those whose reputations depend upon their ability to portray themselves crusaders for justice, ever guarding against white racism.

Daniel Gray said...

Chris, Larry's question was not "Where were you during the Civil Rights Movement?".

The question was "What did you do to respond?"

I could not agree with you more. Reverends Jackson and Sharpton should have said something about those events -- about how the black community has been "lynched" to a point in our society where there is no hope, and no option but to act against oppression.

I'm not saying it's okay for blacks to commit crimes. But what we've done is wrong. It's their fault, but it's our fault too.

Chris said...

So Daniel, what would expect a teen to do?

Amanda said...


I wonder if you have seen footage of the civil rights movement? I assume you have since you were alive then. Black teens and children were marching and protesting.Being beaten, attacked by police dogs, sprayed with powerful water hoses, bombed in church, etc. Young whites and blacks in their late teens and early twenties were registering blacks to vote and being killed for that too.