Strange Fruit. Southern trees bear strange fruit. Blood on the leaves. Blood at the root. Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze. Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Those chilling opening words came from the pen of poet Lewis Allan when he wrote the poem, “Strange Fruits.” The poem was later made famous by the sultry voices of both Billie Holiday and the legendary Nina Simone. It depicted the horrific, sad reality of Black life throughout the American Diaspora. Although the lynchings that took place throughout this nation were a tragedy in itself, the true tragedy is lived out in the last bars of the song. “Pastoral scene of the gallant south. The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth. The scent of magnolia, sweet and fresh. Then the sudden smell of burning flesh. Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck, for the rain to gather, for the wind to suck, for the sun to rot, for the tree to drop. Here is a strange and bitter crop.”
Lewis Allan creatively points out in these last bars that many of the strange fruits remained on the trees until the crows or sun dry rotted the skin. This was done to permanently instill fear in the hearts and minds of Black folks. The end result was to make Black men and women too intensely fearful to fight against those who brought about this barbaric act. For the most part, Blacks would walk by the hanging men and stare at the human fruit and hope that they would not become victims of similar white supremacist rage. It is no secret that many Black southern mothers were afraid to have their northern male relatives come and visit them. They feared that they would not adjust to the ways of the South and subsequently become the Emmett Till of the day or the strange fruit that is historically grown on the southern trees.
Lynching and burning of black flesh went on too long. Although there can be many analytical reasons why, one fact cannot be ignored. And that is that too many of us were more concerned for our physical well -being. We did not realize that our silence killed a part of our spirit that will take a lifetime to heal.
We do not have to travel to the South to get a full understanding of the lynch mob- mindset. Right here in our city there are daily examples of those who want to physically harm another person because of their sexual, religious or ethnic affiliations. The overwhelming number of the incidents may not be as extreme as the Southern racist, but the emotional lynching that accompanies the violence should not be dismissed as insignificant.
The psychological lynching and physical violence takes on a subtler message of hate and intimidation. Staten Islanders living on the north side of the borough openly admit that they are not allowed to travel to the south shore of Staten Island. That acknowledgment is not lost on Richmond County. Similar sentiments are felt in the county of Kings and Queens. Today there are still geographical locations in the city that are representative to the Mason Dixon line.
Blacks and other groups silently carry out their duties in these areas by day and consciously retreat from them before night falls. This reality must be met head -on and we must ensure that our psychological trees never bear the 1955 Deep South “strange fruits.”
Our goal is not only to ensure safe passage and living conditions for those of the African Diaspora, but for all those who live and reside in this city. It is no secret that after 9/11 many men and women of the Islamic community found themselves harassed, and in some cases, beaten. To remain silent while this abuse takes place is no different than walking past the Southern lynchings. Evil often prospers because people of good will remain quiet and tolerate its existence.