If They Weren’t Australian . . .

This weekend, an Australian company performed at the new park downtown.  I will borrow a description from their website:

[The group] is a Melbourne-based performing arts company that produces and performs a remarkable style of work that fuses theatre, dance and circus, using a unique elevated medium.

Perched atop 4 metre high flexible poles of original design, the troupe delivers a sublime performance, bending and swaying in the air, captivating and engaging the audience in absolute fascination.

Originally based on the image of a field of wheat swaying in the breeze, the poles’ extreme strength and flexibility allow the performer to bow to impossible angles, swaying back and forth in a hypnotising dance as the audience looks up in wonder.

The group’s name startled me when I first read it on the calendar – Strange Fruit.

I’ve only heard that phrase in one context, ever, and assumed that others would be equally taken aback.  Then again, they were scheduled to perform, and their name was right there, bigger’n Dallas, on the posters and schedules and website.

Here’s a not-so-hot photo I snapped:

September 25, 2009 performance of Spheres

September 25, 2009 performance of Spheres

While I didn’t see the whole show, I did see parts on both Friday and Saturday night, and certainly, the performances were lovely and enchanting.

Frankly, though, I just couldn’t get over the name.  I am kicking myself for not asking someone from the group how they picked it, and maybe I need to make sure I find them today to do so.

If you don’t know the other uniquely American context for the phrase strange fruit, I will only link to the photo that inspired the poem that introduced it to the lexicon.  The image, if you opt not to click, shows the lynching of two African-American men, Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, in Marion, Indiana on August 7, 1930.

That’s 1930, not 1830.  A fair number of people I know have grandparents who were alive in 1930.  Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old boy, was lynched in 1955, when many of our parents were entering their teen years.

Here’s the poem, written by a high school teacher in the Bronx, Abel Meeropol, after he saw the photograph of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith:

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body 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 magnolia sweet and fresh,
And the sudden smell of burning flesh!

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 a tree to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

May people know the poem through Billie Holiday’s recording of it.  Absolutely chilling:

As of 1:40 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on June 24, 2005, 89 members of the U.S. Senate signed on to co-sponsor a resolution apologizing that the government never enacted federal anti-lynching legislation.  The resolution passed on a voice vote, which means that individual votes were not recorded.

2005. That’s this century.  A voice vote?   Sadly, it would seem lynching has not yet become ancient history when you can’t get 100% of the Senate on record expressing remorse or regret.

People I’ve asked about the name have fallen into two camps.  A couple had never heard the phrase at all.  Those who had, black and white, were as startled as I was by the name.  The only conclusion we could draw was that the history of lynching in the United States, barely studied in our own country, never made it to the curriculum in Australia.

We remember until we forget.

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One Response to If They Weren’t Australian . . .

  1. Pingback: A Strange Fruit Apology. Sort of. Maybe Try Again? « nonsequiteuse

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