Oxford AASC: Photo Essay

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PHOTO ESSAY

Jim Crow Justice

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Strange Fruit

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Not all protests involve slogans and speeches. This photograph by Lawrence Bitler shows the corpses of Thomas Schipp and Abram Smith, two men who were lynched in Marion, Indiana, on 7 August 1930. The image inspired Abel Meerpool, a Jewish schoolteacher from the Bronx, to publish a poem titled "Strange Fruit" under the pen name Lewis Allen. Meerpool/Allen later set the song to music, and it was first performed by the jazz singer Billie Holiday at Cafe Society in New York's Greenwich Village in 1939. The song became one of her most popular recordings and her signature closing number; it also became an anthem of the antilynching movement. Many critics still consider Holiday's rendition of "Strange Fruit" to be one of the most powerful, understated commentaries on prejudice ever committed to music.

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