Strange Fruit – why that flag means what it does to many

I applaud the state of South Carolina for making a long overdue, but nonetheless courageous decision to take down the Confederate battle flag. What many fail to realize its heritage has two meanings, neither good. It was the initial symbol of rebellion that wanted to keep the right to slavery and not be dictated by people in Washington. Do not let people try to rewrite history using the terms we southerners liked to call it “the War of Northern Aggression.” That was propaganda then and remains propaganda today.

Yet, it also carries the meaning of Jim Crow, a period which allowed the reinforced condemnation and control of Blacks in the south, in spite of their rights on paper. This condemnation included the purposeful killing, often by hanging, of Blacks who were deemed guilty of contrived crimes or because they tried to exercise their paper rights in practice. I would ask you to watch “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “Mississippi Burning” to get a sense of what Jim Crow was all about.

Or, we could heed the words of Billie Holiday, who sang the impactful 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


If you want to listen to the words, please go to the attached link.

Taking down the battle flag is a great, symbolic step, but it has to be more than that. We need to treat everyone like we want to be treated. Jesus made no caveats with his words as to who should not be so treated. Neither should we, especially with our history that includes “a strange and bitter crop” of people who did not come close to such treatment. This is also why we should not whitewash history, as we should never allow such treatment again on our soil.



26 thoughts on “Strange Fruit – why that flag means what it does to many

  1. My grandfather was Chief of Police in Hot Springs Arkansas when it was a major ‘safe zone’ for high-class Mafia member. He owned bars (and apparently whore houses) with people like Scarface Nelson and others. I understand he was also KKK… what a horrible thing to be!!! I was so ashamed of that – and still am. But I don’t close my eyes to it either . . .

    • Leiah, I understand. Being from the south, when people research and come across wills, they find slave ownership in their heritage like we did. These were not rich people, but they had one – five slaves they willed to heirs. It gives you chills and makes you sad when you read it. We should never forget this which is what some textbooks in Texas are doing, sanding over the rough parts. Thanks for sharing, BTG

      • Once bad decisions and bad choices get a root, backed up by their co-workers and friends, we could call it internal support, yes – very hard to stop or rehab. Consider teaching them something they don’t want to learn. An expression from grade school “everybody’s doing it”

      • Lee, you said it. Going against the grain requires some conviction. Nicholas Kristof wrote a piece the other day apologizing to Jimmy Carter for calling him a weak leader as did others. His reason for the apology is he learned that Carter was the only business person in his home town who did not join a White Elitist group. And, when he was governor of GA, he said we will not condone prejudice and put up a portrait of MLK in the state building.

      • I don’t know the reason other than a conservative bent toward the wrong side of so many issues for our future. This crowd has given conservatism a bad name and it had room to improve to begin with.

    • Z, since you lived in the south, you would likely not have heard it. I did not until only in the last two years, courtesy of Billy Crystal, whose father was a record store owner and promoter of jazz and blues in NYC. He spoke of his relationship as a child with Billie Holiday who would take him to movies. Thanks, BTG

      • you’re right// that song probably would have been banned, perhaps discreetly, but not allowed much airplay. perhaps if it had, the ones who listened to the lyrics might have awakened and asked questions….

      • Z, I don’t think the powers that be would let even Johnny Rivers sing a version. Remember, how it took English blues and rock bands to introduce Americans to its own blues music that was vastly underplayed here. That was a key reason for the British Invasion. Thanks, BTG

    • Hugh, thanks. Please refer to Leiah and my comments as we discuss this very issue. I read the new Texas textbooks go light on slavery and Jim Crow eras, which are extremely important to know about. BTG

  2. Thank you, your post many times shows a light on our past. “We the People” have to decide the future social rules. Please make a list for us to consider and comment on. “flag” I heard it was moved to the Relic room.

  3. Note to Readers: A reason for this post, is the number of Black churches that are being burned on top of the Charleston murders in a church. Unfortunately, we have too many with beyond extreme views, who are acting out with hate crimes. And, we have some closer to mainstream pundits, politician, religious leaders and radio provocateurs who are making comments that, when listened to by extremists, are like gasoline to a fire. We need to spotlight bad behavior and not say things that make good sound bites, but should not be taken seriously. Because some folks do.

    • Many thanks for the comment and referral. I will check it out. There is a concerted effort by some to rewrite our textbooks which has been done in some states. The purpose is to sand over the rough edges, yet responding to large scale civil grievances is a vital part of our history.

  4. Wow! Is all I have for those lyrics ….
    As for the flag I agree with you 100%. What bothers me is the mass popularity to remove it from stores, old tv shows, video games and everything in its path. Those actions do not sit well with me and the intention behind these actions seem self served. It shouldn’t be a popularity contest, it should just be the right thing to do as a human being.

    • Agreed on your points. As southern white boys, we were taught to romanticize a dark period in our nation’s history that killed over 500,000 Americans. We can still support the honored dead and valiant soldiers, without aggrandizing a flag that is emblematic of a rebellion against our country.

  5. Yes I think the truth should taught and not sand washed as you say. Learning the true history is the one of the ways we can get the healing started. They kept better records of the horses then they did the slaves. When I research my family on ancestry I couldn’t go any further than my great great grandmother. One I couldn’t figure out her last name. The men in my family were much harder to follow. Ancestry said they added more information but at this time I can’t afford the monthly fee. But as I responded to your comment on my blog open conversation is the best way to cut into the wound clean out the infection of hate and fear. Then let the wound heal naturally. My grandmother told me when I was a teenager that she didn’t see racism in Charleston, SC. I believed her until Dylan Roof and I’m 55 years old. I don’t know why she lied, never will but everyone wants to hide the facts of history.

    • Many thanks for your comment and response on your blog. We certainly cannot sand blast history. “Twelve Years a Slave” is a different, painful view than “Gone with the Wind” using a movie analogy. I participated in a multi faith dialogue called. “Community Conversation” and wrote a post about the wonderful dialogue which we should have more of. Thanks again, BTG

  6. Note to Readers: On the Kindness Blog, a picture of a Black police officer helping an older man who is suffering heat exhaustion is shown. This is admirable on its own, but what makes it more newsworthy and powerful is the man is a representative of the KKK who was picketing the Confederate Flag removal in Columbia, SC. Maybe, just maybe, these acts within the first state to secede from the United States, will be the beginning of the end of a celebration of a racist emblem and the start to better race relations.

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