Have you ever really listened to the haunting lyrics of “Strange Fruit,” sung by Billie Holliday, who “had the kind of voice you never forget,” as Bret Primack wrote in Jazz Times?:
Southern trees bear 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.
Strange fruit not only hangs from the poplar trees, but also from swing sets….
On August 29, 2014, Lennon Lacy, a 17-year-old Black male, a local high school football star with dreams of one day playing in the NFL, was found hanging from a swing set in Bladenboro, NC, a small rural outpost with about 1,700 residents, 80% White and 18% Black. A dog leash and a belt were wrapped around his neck.
There were rumors that Lennon was hung because of an interracial romance, but investigators never followed that hunch. We know that many a lynching in the history of the United States begins with a White woman, from sassing a White woman to reckless eyeballing to an actual sexual assault. The historical records though reveal that an actual rape was rare. The mere rumor of a sexual assault of a White woman by a Black male would set White men into a frenzy of violence against them, often resulting in mutilation, castration, hanging and burning of Black men.
Lennon’s hanging, his death, was ruled a suicide.
I am not implying that Black people don’t hang themselves, but there is something counter intuitive about choosing this mode of suicide, something from the collective unconscious that remembers this country’s orgy of lynching Black males, something in the historical DNA that just won’t allow a Black body to do itself in in this manner.
Because the Lacy family and their supporters wouldn’t let this matter die, and because there are so many unanswered questions in Lennon’s death, federal investigators are reopening the case to take another look.
Americans, White Americans in particular, don’t want to look deeply or dwell on this part of American history. Perhaps this is one reason we are haunted by this history and the lyrics of “Strange Fruit.”