Lament for a Cruel History

By Michele Sigg–

Challenge

Strange Fruit
Sung by Billie Holiday

Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swingin’ in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant South
The bulgin’ eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burnin’ 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 the tree to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

To learn more, visit Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror (Equal Justice Initiative).

Reflection. Yes, lynching happened in this country. I cannot even begin to reflect on the history of lynching in America. I cannot conceive of the depth of cruelty and malice that made this modern form of public torture possible. What if my family was part of one of these spectacles? Or what if they just stood by and let it happen? How many of my friends have a family member in their history who was lynched? I know of one at least.

Action. For starters, I need to learn the history of lynching and the legacy of terror and trauma it has caused in the lives of Black Americans. Rewatching the documentary Unchained (view it on the Resources page, scroll down) on the generational trauma of racism might help me understand a little better why there is residual anger, resentment and rage in the Black community, even today. What else can I do? Pray? Listen to the pain and the anger? Try to understand and carry the pain with my friends? Yes. All of these.

Scripture for the road. Psalm 137 helps me to grasp a tiny bit a sense of the anger, rage, and lust for vindication by the hand of God that one can feel after suffering unspeakable violence by the hand of an oppressor.

Psalm 137
By the rivers of Babylon—
    there we sat down and there we wept
    when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
    we hung up our harps.
For there our captors
    asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
    “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How could we sing the Lord’s song
    in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
    let my right hand wither
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,
    if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
    above my highest joy.

Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
    the day of Jerusalem’s fall,
how they said, “Tear it down! Tear it down!
    Down to its foundations!”
O daughter Babylon, you devastator!
    Happy shall they be who pay you back
    what you have done to us!
Happy shall they be who take your little ones
    and dash them against the rock!

After experiencing such suffering, being able to forgive truly is a miraculous gift of God’s Spirit. Only God can accomplish this in us. It is through Jesus that forgiveness is possible.

One comment

  1. This is a beautifully written, shocking, much needed, timely talk. I love that Michele Sigg and friends are working together toward healing the church by addressing these issues. I do think the church will die if it does not become aware and take responsibility for being either perpetrators or supporters, through sins of commission or omission, toward people of color. And then my mind expands to the fact that we are collectively lynching our planet by plundering her resources. Yes, we are “consuming away in our discontent“. I add this because this, along with racial injustice, is very much on my mind. And I add this not to detract from Sigg’s focus on racism. Congratulations for bringing the racism issue into the very center of the church’s crosshairs.

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