Remembering another era of lynchings and listening to “Strange Fruit”

Billie Holiday’s 1959 performance of “Strange Fruit.” was recorded just a few months before her untimely demise from heart failure due to liver cirrhosis. In this heartbreaking performance scattered around deep noticeable agony, every verse is chillingly moaned with relentless pain. 

Probably the first time, in popular music culture, the full emotional weight of the psychological terror that the African Americans had faced, time and again, throughout the history of the United States of America, was looked at and felt by viewers from their respective cocoons. 

“Strange Fruit” was written by Jewish poet and Communist Abel Meeropol, inspired by a photograph that showcased the horrifying ecstasy of a mob in front of the hanging bodies of two African Americans. It further solidified the status of white supremacists as the crossbearers of ‘justice’, who regularly intimidated the African Americans by racial terrorism and excruciating torture.  Strengthened by state and local laws that enforced racial segregation, Jim Crow laws in particular, through the late 19th and early 20th century, most lynchings that took place across the Southern regions of USA were of African Americans. The laws spoke against them and the common motive of lynching was a vulgar display of power, machismo and uncompromising authority over jurisdriction, without any fear of conviction.

This year, on Independence Day eve in India, as an Alwar Court acquitted all six accused in the lynching of Pehlu Khan, who was beaten alive to death in broad daylight and the entire spectacle was recorded as a trophy for this ‘proud’ display of terrifying machismo scarring lives of minorities all around the country, let Billie Holiday mourn once again for the sufferers, thousand miles away from where she lived. 

For the fate of the marginalised is uniform across the globe.



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