Strange Fruit
Independent Lens Season 4

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Episode Info

Made famous by singer Billie Holiday in an unforgettable 1939 recording, the haunting anti-lynching anthem "Strange Fruit" was not, as many believe, written by an African-American. Rather, it grew out of poem penned by a Jewish schoolteacher from the Bronx, Abel Meeropol. Outraged by the shabby and often brutal treatment of black citizens in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave, Meeropol gravitated to the burgeoning civil rights movement of the 1930s, where he also found a nurturing home for his left-of-center sentiments (the same sentiments which, years later, moved him to adopt the children of executed atomic spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg). To avoid persecution from the radical right and from the anti-Semites of the era, Meeropol published the song under the pseudonym Lewis Allen, the same name he later used for his less impassioned but equally powerful anti-bigotry ballad "The House I Live In." Naturally, this 60-minute documentary includes film clips of Billie Holiday performing the title song (in her only TV appearance, in 1958), as well as renditions by such activist-artists as Pete Seeger, Josh White, and Cassandra Wilson. Strange Fruit was first telecast as a presentation of the PBS anthology Independent Lens.