Lynching in the US
Strange Fruit – Bessie Smith, performed by Billie Holliday
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.
Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, 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.
Respond to these questions in your notebook:
1. Why were people lynched?
2. Why was it hard to get justice for the victims?
3. What were the police doing when lynching occurred?
Based on beliefs of self-defense of white women, hierarchy.
Combined racism and sadism with the goal of terrorizing black population
Occurred in all but four states (MA, RI, NH, VT)
50% of lynching occurred in MS, GA, TX, LA, AL
Often mobs were mistaken in the identity of their victims.
At least half of the lynchings are carried out with police officers participating,
and that in nine-tenths of the others the officers either condone or wink at the
Birth of a Nation (1915)
Birth of a Nation was the most popular film of the
silent era. Its innovative technique made it the most
important silent film ever produced. But the film also
provided historical justification for segregation and
discrimination. The message embedded in the film
was that Reconstruction was a disaster, that African
Americans could never be integrated into white
society as equals, and that the violent actions of the
Ku Klux Klan were justified because they were
necessary to reestablish legitimate and honest
To convey an impression of historical accuracy, Griffith
incorporated cinematic replicas of famous historical
scenes, such as the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
He also filled the film with anti-black incidents;
arrogant freedmen pushing whites off sidewalks,
preaching marriage between the races, and killing
blacks who remained loyal to their masters. The film's
characters are stereotypes: loyal house servants;
deluded and ignorant field hands; arrogant mulattoes
lusting after Southern white women; and the Ku Klux
Klan made up of gallant ex-Confederate officers.
The motion picture demonstrates the disturbing
power of film propaganda: Its racist elements
provoked protests, riots, and other violence, and
eventually a move toward film censorship laws.
1:58:15, 2:06:27, 2:47:50, 2:58:00
Woodrow Wilson's History of the American
People is quoted in The Birth of a Nation.
However, in 1923, Wilson noted of the reborn
Klan, “...no more obnoxious or harmful
organization has ever shown itself in our affairs.”
Hooded Klansmen catch Gus, a black man whom the filmmaker
described as “a renegade, a product of the vicious doctrines spread by
the carpetbaggers.” Gus was played in black face by white actor Walter
This image shows a photograph from the early 1920s, probably in Portland, in which robed and hooded Ku Klux
Klan members share a stage with members of the Royal Riders of the Red Robe, Klan auxiliary for foreign-born
This photograph was published by the Portland Telegram on August 2, 1921