Strange Fruit – why that flag means hate to so many

This post was written after South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley had the Confederate flag removed from the state capitol following the Charleston AME Zion shooting that killed nine African-Americans, who had invited their killer in to worship with them. It remains pertinent today with the police and vigilante killings of young African-Americans. We cannot go back to this time of horrible racial injustice.

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” or a war over “states’ rights.” That was propaganda then to get poor whites to fight for white landowners so the latter could keep the slaves they owned. And, it 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.

The reason Black Lives Matter is such a huge rallying cry is because for so long and still today, we have to remind everyone, that All Lives must include Black Lives.

18 thoughts on “Strange Fruit – why that flag means hate to so many

  1. Well said Keith.
    There is something toxic lurking in our beings which enables some to romanticise what was unplesasnt, brutal and downright vile. And whitewash (deliberate use) out the nasty….for instance during Lee’s last militray offensive culminating in Gettysburg aside from property looted confederates also took black residents of Pennsylvania and shipped them back south as booty to be sold as slaves.
    One of my hobbies is Wargaming and one favourite subject is the American Civil War, I can’t touch it these days, not since Trump made racism and confederate sentiments ‘respectable’

    • Roger, it is not a surprise this is a hobby of yours. Our area has so many battlefields, both Civil War and Revolutionary War, near by. My brother-in-law, who you would like chatting with, participates in Civil War reenactments. He said there is an abundance of Confederacy participants, my guess is trying to rewrite the conclusion. I presume you have seen Ken Burns’ “Civil War” documentary series on PBS? Keith

      • Yep seen it. And I fear some still think if their forebears had made just one more charge up Cemetery Ridge they would have been in Washington by the end of the week.
        Both the films ‘Gettysburg’ and ‘Glory’ had lists of the enactment groups which participated as extras. In the former there was something of a camaraderie between the groups.
        I think that has now passed.
        We have some American Civil War groups over here. Though most British re- enactment is based around the civil wars of the 1600s, under the aegis of The Sealed Knot (no politics, just folk who like dressing up, in some cases whole families)

      • Roger, it amazes me how little we Americans know about history. We learned a cobbled version which glosses over Native American genocide, Japanese American internment, and slavery and Jim Crow.

        Many pro-Confederate groups do not realize the Union did not devote everyone to fighting and the generals’ incompetence kept the war going. Yet, Lincoln needed to get the amendment through to free the slaves before the split county reiunited.

        Until the movies “Dunkirk” and “The Darkest Hour,” most Americans were unaware (and still are), how close Britain was to being overtaken and the utter resilience of the Brits.


  2. Good post, Keith … why, more than 150 years after the end of the Civil War, is this nation still so filled with inexplicable hatred for those who don’t look just like them? I don’t understand it, never will.

    • Jill, you are so right. I saw today, the president announced the Confederate leader names at military bases will remain. This is beyond tone deaf – it is an appeal to the negative part of his base. Keith

      • Yes, and he even referred to the Confederate generals for whom the bases are named as ‘heroes’. Says a lot about his character, but then … we really didn’t need further proof, did we?

  3. Hello Keith. It makes me wonder what is broken in those people that want to return to such a time of barbaric practices. I do not understand those who do not want things to be better for everyone, but only want improvements for themselves and no others. I do not understand the fear giving others equal rights and equal treatment brings out in some people. Hugs

    • Scottie, what is lost on many who act this way is the Confederate flag was more of a banner for the KKK than it was for the Confederacy. Also, the monuments went up at different times – following the war, around 1915 when the KKK and Jim Crow was in its heyday, and some even as late as 1970 (Stone Mountain in Atlanta – a direct reaction to the Civil Rights era).

      Again, those who justify the “slavery cause” saying things like the Civil War was a war for states’ rights are using 150 year old propaganda. The soldiers left their families to fight what they thought was a nobler cause, but in actualityy was to protect the richer landowners’ enslaved assets. If they knew this, would poor white people have fought risking their lives?


      • Hello Keith. Maybe someone should tell those flying the confederate battle flag that that side lost in a war against the United States, the very country they say they love and constitution they claim to value so highly. Those monuments of Confederate generals are monuments of traitors to the USA. Hugs

      • Scottie, have you seen the anti-Trump commercial by The Lincoln Project? That is the theme.

        Since you live in the south as well, you see folks flying or placing bumper stickers of both the American and Confederate flags. It does not sink in that one flag is an insult to the other and led to the death of over 600,000 Americans and probably more African-Americans since the end of that war. Keith

  4. Note to Readers II: In a poignant story courtesy of comedian-actor Billy Crystal, Billie Holiday used to take him to matinee movies when he was young. Crystal said his father ran a New York record store and helped African-American musicians get paying gigs, which his father emceed. Crystal said Holiday called him Mr. Billy and he called her Miss Billie. When his father died, there was a who’s who list of Jazz and Blues entertainers who attended the funeral.

    I mention this story as it shows how people can lend a helping hand to those denied opportunity.

    • David, thanks. We have a good group of commenters, so I am learning from their comments and posts, as well. I appreciate you adding to the mix. Keith

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