Strange Fruit: James Hal Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree

On September 1, Orbis Books will release The Cross and the Lynching Tree, by Rev. Dr. James H. Cone, Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York .

Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees . . . ,/ Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,/ For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,/ For the sun to rot, for the tree to drop—/ Here is a strange and bitter crop.

 Strange Fruit, words and arrangement by Abel Meerepol, as performed by Billie Holiday.

Billie Holiday’s haunting rendition of Strange Fruit conjures America’s horrific legacy of lynching—where white mobs tortured and murdered at least 3500 black men and women for a variety of supposed offenses (from “insulting” whites, interracial sex, to other generally unproven “crimes”).  The ugliness of lynching, which persisted from Reconstruction through the mid-1960’s, is difficult for both white- and African-Americans to face.  Lynching was carnage turned community pastime:  Whole families came for the spectacle; and merriment, food, and whiskey (and American flags) abounded.  The festivities obscured the sinister murder at their center and dulled the ritual’s true function: re-establishing and maintaining the power of whites over blacks in post-slavery America.

For more on Professor Cone’s theology of the cross, the lynching tree, and his conception of their interrelated impact in contemporary American and global society, please follow the jump. Read more