This is a video I use often in my undergraduate class on “African Diaspora” to mixed reviews. Some students like it because it captures the pain and injustice of African American experience in the Jim Crow era. Others think the imagery of lynching is too strong and find it disturbing. I think it has a place in the classroom.

Legend has it that Billy Holiday who had a troubled life as an artiste and ultimately died of a drug overdose in 1959 often found it difficult to sing this song and resorted to taking hard drugs before performing the song. (Don’t quote me on this….just urban legend). It is also ironic that “Strange Fruit” was penned not by an African American but began as a poem written by a Jewish high-school teacher from the Bronx, New York about the lynching of two black men. This is a testament to the historic solidarity between Jewish Americans and African-Americans born out of a common experience of persecution and alienation (You can quote me on that).

Billy Holiday “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.