Strange Fruit: lynching in America

I spent most of the day today looking at a dark, sad and violent era in U.S. History. Jim Crow laws had s terrorizing effect on the African American. Simple offenses like stealing, disrespecting a white person or as bad as murder and rape could and often did end in an anger induced and mob fueled lynching. It was an ugly, cruel form of punishment that was sometimes directed at innocent men both black and white. More than 4,000 lynchings recorded in 60 years of our history. The lyrics of the song below and pictures/stories paint a clear picture of why this should not be forgotten and pushed aside. It also shows the power of the media to help bring an end to terror.

strange fruit,

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.


Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute
The Negro Holocaust: Lynching and Race Riots in the United States,1880-1950
Robert A. Gibson

"There are three major sources of lynching statistics. None cover the complete history of lynching in America. Prior to 1882, no reliable statistics of lynchings were recorded. In that year, the Chicago Tribune first began to take systematic account of lynchings. Shortly thereafter, in 1892, Tuskegee Institute began to make a systematic collection and tabulation of lynching statistics. Beginning in 1912, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People kept an independent record of lynchings." -

Contrary to present-day popular conception, lynching was not a crime committed exclusively against Black people.... Although a substantial number of white people were victims of this crime, the vast majority of those lynched, by the 1890s and after the turn of the century, were Black people. According to the Tuskegee Institute statistics for the period covered in this study, the total number of Black lynching victims was more than two and one-half times as many as the number of whites put to death by lynching.

 In fact, every state in the continental United States with the exception of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Vermont has had lynching casualties.

After 1892, lynchings declined quite steadily until about 1905, when there were sixty-two... There was an annual average of sixty-two lynchings for the years 1910 to 1919.  Although the actual number of lynchings declined after 1892, the percentage of Black victims increased.

The work of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was tremendously effective in awakening the nation to the urgency of stopping lynching. In 1919 the NAACP published Thirty Years of Lynching in the United States, 1889-1918, which was a revelation of the causes of lynching and the circumstances under which the crimes occurred. Beginning in 1921, the NAACP sponsored antilynching legislation such as the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill and numerous other proposals to make lynching a federal crime.

From WithoutSanctuary.Org

Blue stamp on reverse:
FROM KLUTTZ'S STUDIO E. Council St., near Court House, SALISBURY, N.C.

The mob numbered into the thousands that wrenched five black men from the civil authorities of Salisbury, North Carolina on the night of August 3, 1906. They accused the men of murdering members of a local family, named Lyerly. The New York Times reported that the victims were tortured with knives before being hanged and then riddled with bullets. The authorities in North Carolina, alarmed at what was one of the largest multiple lynchings of the 20th century, took unusual steps to punish the leaders of the mob.

After the Governor ordered the National Guard to restore order, local officials arrested more than two-dozen suspected leaders. One of the killers, George Hall, was convicted and sentenced to 15 years at a hard labor in the state penitentiary. The New York Times predicted that, by taking these measures, North Carolina's Governor Glenn was not improving his political prospects.


Lynchers often paraded their victim down the main street, through black neighborhoods, and in front of "colored schools" that were in session.

Jesse Washington, seventeen years old, was the chief suspect in the May 8, 1916, murder of Lucy Fryer of Robinson, Texas, on whose farm he worked as a laborer. After the lynching, Washington's corpse was placed in a burlap bag and dragged around City Hall Plaza, through the main streets of Waco, and seven miles to Robinson, where a large black population resided.

His charred corpse was hung for public display in front of a blacksmith shop. The sender of this card, Joe Meyers, an oiler at the Bellmead car department and a Waco resident, marked his photo with a cross (now an ink smudge to left of victim).

As celebrated as any court battle in the twentieth century, the trial of the "jew," Leo Frank, for the murder of "little Mary Phagan" pitted Jews against Christians, industrialists against workers, northerners against southerners, and city against country folk. It launched political careers and destroyed others, prompted the formation of the AntiDefamation league, and set the stage for the resurrection of a more sinister and brutal Ku Klux Klan.

Leo Max Frank was arrested on April 27, 1913, the morning after Confederate Memorial Day. A grotesquely engineered trial led to Frank's conviction and a sentence of death by hanging. After Governor John Slaton's commutation of the death sentence, Frank was transferred, for his own safety, to a prison farm in Milledgeville, Georgia. On the night of August 16, 1915 at 11 p.m., a gang of twenty-five men, some of Marietta, Georgia's "best citizens," wearing goggles and hats pulled down low, pulled Frank from a hospital bed (he had been hospitalized for a near fatal, seven-inch knife wound to his throat.) They placed him, feeble, undressed, and handcuffed, in one of four waiting cars and departed for Marietta, intending to hang him over the monument of Mary Phagan. Frank, often described as stoic, sufficiently impressed two of the lynchers with his sincerity and innocence that they advocated his return to the prison farm. The mob, minus the few who "mutinied," drove into a grove just outside Marietta, selected a mature oak, swung the rope over a limb, stood Frank on a table, and kicked it out from beneath him.

Postcards of the lynched Leo Frank were sold outside the undertaking establishment where his corpse was taken, at retail stores, and by mail order for years. The owner of the property where the lynching occurred refused repeated offers to buy the tree from which Leo Frank was hung. The dean of the Atlanta Theological Seminary praised the murderers as "a sifted band of men, sober, intelligent, of established good name and character - good American citizens." The mob included two former Superior Court justices, one ex-sheriff, and at least one clergyman.

Leo Frank was posthumously pardoned in 1985.


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