“Here is a Strange and Bitter Crop”

Have you ever heard this song? You probably have. And, if you have, you’ll know that it’s about a lynching. Specifically the lynching of 2 young black men accused of armed robbery, murder and rape. No, it didn’t happen in the south. It happened 80 years ago today in Marion, Indiana.

You can read about what happened that night, and listen to eyewitness accounts here. It’s pretty graphic and there’s language that might make you uncomfortable, but you should read and listen to it anyway. No one ever said history was glamorous.

I’d seen the picture before. I knew it was the basis for the poem by Abel Meeropol that was turned into the song. What I didn’t know was that there was a third person who could have been lynched, but wasn’t. A 16-year-old named James Cameron. 2 things he said in this article got to me:

And I looked over to the faces of the people as they were beating me along the way to the tree. I was pleading for some kind of mercy, looking for a kind face. But I could find none.

I will never be able to imagine that kind of fear. Or what it feels like to be on the receiving end of so much hate. He wasn’t lynched because, according to some, a voice rang out, “He didn’t do it!” They sent him back to jail and he was convicted as an accessory to the murder and did 4 years, though the case was never solved. In 1993, the governor of Indiana formally pardoned Cameron. This is the other thing he said that really made me stop and feel for a moment:

“When a traumatic event happens like that, it makes an indelible imprint on the mind,” Cameron said. “But I told him, since Indiana had forgiven me, I, in turn, forgive Indiana.”

How awe-inspiring is that? Now, he attributed the voice in the crowd that night to being the voice of an angel. As you know, I don’t believe in that sort of thing. But I do believe that there was probably that one person who woke up from that crazed mob frenzy and, on some level, remembered that every single person there that night was a human being. Human beings who deserved better than a public beating and killing, and human beings who deserved more than the life-long knowledge that they had succumbed to mob violence, pure hatred and murder.

Hopefully, you’ll read and listen to the story I linked to. And as you do, keep in mind all the people around today who would like to overturn the Civil Rights Act; who call for the repeal of the 14th Amendment, or any amendment after The Bill Of Rights(like the 13th Amendment or the 19th Amendment, etc). Think about whether or not these people are interested in “states rights”(which, btw, was the same excuse southerners used when they wanted to keep their slaves. We all know how that turned out), or whether or not they are looking for an excuse to continue to oppress the shit out of us.

Just something to think about on the anniversary of this sad, sad day in our nation’s history.

Southern trees bear 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,
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.


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