Ezekiel felt it when the Lord placed her hand on the Prophet and took him by the wind into that valley filled with old, dry bones. That valley was the theme of a song written by Jewish activist and school teacher Abe Meeropol. “Strange Fruit” is a haunting song about lives lynched into corpses.
Southern trees bear a 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 and the sudden smell of burning flesh.
Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck. For the rain to gather. For the wind to suck.
For the sun to rot. For a tree to drop. Here is a strange and bitter crop.
Black corpses, strange fruit, 4,743 of them lynched. A roadmap of hate after Abraham “freed” the slaves. Not all “swinging in the Southern breeze.” A 2009 Annals of Wyoming essay by historian Todd Guenther documented Cowboy State lynching. Guenther concluded, “A black man’s life wasn’t worth much in the Equality State.”
The Bible says it started with Cain. The blood of his murdered brother cried out from the ground. Cain shrugged, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The first corpse in human history became a monument to injustice and indifference.
Human carcasses litter early Bible stories. Countless corpses floating on receding flood waters betray God’s pique of anger that led to the destruction of all humanity. God’s judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah left corpses and, to this day, provides haters a pretext to turn transgender and gay children of God into corpses.
God promised to some land owned by others, yielding corpses at Jericho, where all men, women, children and livestock were butchered. Thousands upon thousands more were added to the pile as Joshua rampaged through the Canaanite towns and villages of the “Promised Land,” where corpses accumulate to this very day because of that “promise.”
Biblical legends led directly to Native American corpses appearing throughout the New World. Under a Pope’s authority, the trails of European explorers and manifestly destined colonizers are mapped by the American Indian corpses they discarded. Corpses define the Trail of Tears. Corpses tell the tale of broken treaties. The corpses of buffalo expose the evil intentions of white people to destroy Indian cultures.
Corpses track the history of slavery from the villages of Africa, where ships were filled to overflowing with some 12 million black bodies. Two million became corpses, floating to the bottom of the ocean, before they could be made slaves, tell the routes taken by the slave ships from Africa to the New World.
The World Future Fund assigns white European Christians the sinful responsibility for 60 million corpses for propagating the international slave market. Their profit motive motivated “a tidal wave of war and desolation” and “an endless series of wars produced by the quest for new slaves.” Millions more died “in concentration camps at both ends of the sea journey,” and significant numbers became corpses due to the appalling conditions on the slave ships. (http://www.worldfuturefund.org/Reports/Slavedeathtoll/slaverydeathtoll.html)
Corpses buried on Southern plantations recount the history of American slavery. Corpses left behind during Reconstruction, the Black Codes and Jim Crow prove slavery did not end with the Emancipation Proclamation.
Likewise, corpses of injustice and indifference tell the pathetic truth about feckless politicians who refuse to do anything about gun violence in the U.S. Thus, corpses everywhere. Eight more in Atlanta. Ten in a Boulder grocery store. Corpses of schoolchildren. Concerts goers. Mall shoppers. Worshippers praying in churches. Mosques. Synagogues.
Strange fruit of injustice and indifference. Like the corpse laid in a tomb 2,000 years ago. But, this corpse refused to remain a corpse, missing when the women went to the tomb. And so, we celebrate the Risen Christ as the world’s last, best hope to harvest not strange fruit, but the fruit of hope.