Black History Month – Strange Fruit
You may have heard Billie Holiday sing about Strange Fruit. Or, you may have heard the version on Sons of Anarchy sung by Katey Sagal. But, did you know what inspired the song?
During the summer of 1930, James Cameron nearly lost his life. At 16 years old, he and two other teenage companions were arrested for allegedly murdering a white factory worker and raping his companion. But the case was never solved. That’s because a mob dragged two of the teens, Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, from the jail, beat them, and then hung them the day after they were arrested. The iconic photo of the lifeless bodies of Shipp and Smith hanging from a tree was seen around the world. The scene of the lynching was festive for those in attendance as participants posed for pictures with the dead teens. What happened to Cameron is nothing less than a miracle. After the mob hung Shipp and Smith, they came back to the jail to hang Cameron. It is reported that the sheriff feebly told the mob that they already got to hang two men, that their bloodlust should be quenched. That didn’t stop the mob from dragging Cameron from his cell, beating him, and placing a noose around his neck.
“They got me up to the tree and they got a rope and they put it around my neck. And they began to push me under the tree. And that’s when I prayed to God. I said, ‘Lord have mercy, forgive me my sins.’ I was ready to die.”
The story of the lynching of Shipp and Smith was all too common during a particular era in American History. Mr. Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative is trying to educate the public about our dark past. His team reports that lynching was worse than previously reported and their project seeks to build memorial markers to those who were lynched.
When we think of American History, there are things that we’re proud of and things for which we are ashamed. What’s most important is that we learn from our past and don’t make the same mistakes. Striving for greatness and for maturing from our mistakes is how this country will continue to learn and grow.