“Aching” is how Andra Day’s cover of Strange Fruit has been described. Ms. Day released the classic protest song recently as part of the Equal Justice Initiative’s Lynching in America project. The music video will arrest you with its opening subtitles…
“More than 4,000 African Americans were brutally lynched in the United States between 1877 and 1950. Lynching was a vicious tool of racial control, and its legacy is still felt today. Most states have no memorials to these victims. The sites of the these lynchings remain unmarked.” – Equal Justice Initiative
Following the subtitles, at the dawn of the song, a guitar plays casually before it gets devoured by these drunken drums of liberty. The anthem literally sounds inebriated, strange and bitter. Andra Day’s beautiful, flowering afro is reminiscent of a tree’s fullness. Please, if you haven’t already, watch the video here.
My favorite moment is when she lifts her hands while crooning “black bodies swinging,” revealing broken handcuffs around her wrists– a personification of injustice then and now. The now being “racially-biased capital punishment, excessive sentencing, disproportionate sentencing of racial minorities, and police abuse of people of color” (Ray Cornelius, JAZZ WCLK). Listen to the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, Bryan Stevenson, expound more on this issue here.
The national debate about removing Confederate flags and monuments has brought about important discussions regarding race relations in our country. Through ongoing conversations and with the help of artists and athletes who use their platforms to speak about social injustice, I feel…maybe…we can get unstuck as a country. Even in the most hopeless circumstances, each of us has the power to contribute something educational and large. Google is collaborating with the Equal Justice Initiative.
“The goal of ‘Lynching in America,’ is to spark a national conversation about the connection between America’s painful history of racial violence and the forms of injustice that exist today…” – Equal Justice Initiative
I’ve been perusing the Lynching in America website for the past few days and it gets more and more astonishing. Devote some time to the site. Listen to people, our people, speak about their family members who were lynched. Look at the interactive map. I am a daughter of the south. A Mississippi native. My home state has the most reported lynchings in the United States: 654 reported lynchings, 13 “reported” in Pike County where I currently live….I ache, but this is home for me.
For us educators, the website also has lesson plans. A wonderful resource since a lot of high school students are getting by with vague knowledge of lynching. Calling it something “really bad that happened back then.”
Through this online project, the Equal Justice Initiative is giving us a vital tool to become more honest about racism and systematic killing. I believe this resource site can really help us as a nation grow our compassion and “do our work,” as Iylana Vanzant puts it.
“Slavery didn’t end. It evolved.” – Equal Justice Initiative
Let’s do our work.
Clinnesha D. Sibley is an award-winning playwright and published poet/essayist. She is the Literary Arts Instructor at Mississippi School of the Arts in Brookhaven, MS. For more information, please visit: http://onepagerapp.com/clinneshadsibley.