The first time you hear the song "Strange Fruit,"  the air gets sucked out of the room.

The haunting, poignant protest anthem was written as poem by Abel Meeropol and made famous by Billie Holiday, who sang and recorded the song in 1939.

Meeropol employs the metaphor of a tree and its bitter fruit to symbolize the violence and terror of lynching, which claimed the lives of more than 4,000 black people between 1877 and 1950.


But the song manages to take your breath away largely because nearly 80 years after it was written, in the wake of police violence against black and brown people, it still feels as relevant as ever.

"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."


All GIFs via Andra Day/YouTube.

Vocalist Andra Day masterfully covered the iconic song and recently released a stirring video.

Much like the subject matter and Meeropol's gripping lyrics, the imagery presented in Day's video is indelible. Not only is Day clad in flowers and broken shackles, but much of the video was shot on sites of known lynchings.

The victims' names and dates of death are shared at the conclusion of the powerful video.

This small but powerful tribute is more than most lynching victims have received because most lynching sites go unmarked, and there are no national monuments to the thousands who were tortured and murdered. (Though one is in the works.)

"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."


Day's video is part of Lynching in America, a digital storytelling project from the Equal Justice Initiative.

Inspired by their comprehensive report on lynching from 2015, EJI created an interactive experience to explore the legacy and effects of race-baed violence and terror. Visitors to the site can hear powerful stories from the descendants of lynching victims and those driven away from the South by racially motivated terror, the primary cause of the Great Migration in the early 20th century.

There are also interactive maps to see a state-by-state breakdown of these crimes and the impact they had on the demographics of the nation. Users will also find information about mass incarceration and excessive punishment — the evolution of race-based terror and injustice.

According to its website, "By creating a digital experience for a wide audience, EJI hopes to spark an honest conversation about our history of racial injustice that begins a process of truth and reconciliation."

A couple hug during a protest against police violence in Manhattan. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

Until we confront America's bitter history, we will sing of "Strange Fruit."

Until equality truly exists, the hard work must continue. The tough conversations, the demonstrations, the calls for freedom will continue. And protest anthems like this will lead the way.

Because in the words of Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of EJI, "Slavery didn't end in 1865. It evolved."

"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 the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop."


Watch Day's stirring rendition of "Strange Fruit" below and be sure to check out Lynching in America.

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