“Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze,” in her powerful 1939 recording of the song, “Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.” The song’s lyrics portray the everyday violence that was being inflicted on Black people. And Holiday dared to perform it—in front of Black and white audiences, alike.
“She wanted to make a statement with that song. There was something about standing in front of white audiences and being brave enough to confront America’s ongoing crime,” says Loyola University Maryland associate professor of African and African American studies Karsonya (Kaye) Wise Whitehead. “The writing wasn’t simply about the past—it was happening at that moment.”