Saturday, September 15, 2012

Strange Fruit's Strange Story

You're probably familiar with Billie Holiday's iconic song "Strange Fruit", if not you should be.


This post isn't about the song, for that go here here.  Instead it's about the songwriter, Abel Meeropol, and his connection to W.E.B. Du Bois and the Rosenbergs (yes, those Rosenbergs). 

From NPR...
In the late 1930s, Pellison says, Meeropol "was very disturbed at the continuation of racism in America, and seeing a photograph of a lynching sort of put him over the edge." Meeropol once said the photograph "haunted" him "for days." 
So he wrote a poem about it, which was then printed in a teachers union publication. An amateur composer, Meeropol also set his words to music. He played it for a New York club owner — who ultimately gave it to Billie Holiday.
Fast forward to 1945...
"Abel Meeropol's pen name 'Lewis Allan' were the names of their children who were stillborn, who never lived," says his son, Robert Meeropol. He and his older brother, Michael, were raised by Abel and his wife, Anne Meeropol, after the boys' parents — Ethel and Julius Rosenberg — were executed for espionage in 1953. 
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were sentenced to death for conspiring to give atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. The Rosenbergs had also been Communists. At the time, the Rosenberg sons, Robert and Michael, were 6 and 10, respectively. 
Robert Meeropol says that in the months following his parents' execution, it was unclear who would take care of him and his brother. It was the height of McCarthyism. Even family members were fearful of being in any way associated with the Rosenbergs or Communism. Then, at a Christmas party at the home of W.E.B. Du Bois, the boys were introduced to Abel and Anne Meeropol. A few weeks later, they were living with them.
The audio story...

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