Happy Tuesday everyone:
Yesterday we looked at the influence of the early 1900’s film The Birth of a Nation on rising KKK membership across the country, including in our own hometown of Bakersfield. Today we’ll look at the violence of the KKK continuing onward through two moments in history: the Freedom Summer murders and the jazz song, Strange Fruit.
Freedom Summer Murders
James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner had traveled down to Mississippi from New York to talk and help members of a black church that had been burned to the ground. They were participating in the Freedom Summer of 1964, when many Americans went to the Southern states in the hopes of registering voters to help elect more equality minded leaders. The three boys were arrested for speeding by a sheriff with ties to the KKK; who then released them from jail directly into a waiting KKK gang who murdered the boys. The KKK was led in these murders by a local minister who was set free due in part to one juror insisting that a preacher would never do anything wrong. (Modern update: in 2005, the state of Mississippi tried Edgar Killen again for the murders, he was found guilty, and died in prison in 2018)
The KKK was infamous for violence similar to the Freedom Summer murders throughout the 1900’s, attempting to terrorize Americans into fear of standing up against racism. Lynchings (the hanging of black Americans without trial or cause) was one tool the KKK was known to use. The song Strange Fruit was written by a school teacher as a poem and eventually sang by Billie Holliday in 1939 as a mournful remembrance and protest of these terrible crimes. Watch a performance of the song below:
Very sad events but important to acknowledge so that we as humans do not repeat the past. Comment below why the song is titled “Strange Fruit”.