1944 April 4

“Strange Fruit,” The Novel, Banned in Boston


Harvard Professor Bernard DeVoto bought a copy of the novel, Strange Fruit by Lillian Smith, as Boston police officers watched and then arrested him. The arrest was an pre-arranged test of a police ban on the book for “lewdness.” DeVoto was assisted by the Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, but the Harvard Law Book Store, which sold the book, was fined $200. An appeal failed, and the book remained technically banned in Boston for several decades.

The novel is the story of an interracial romance between a white man and an African-American woman in Georgia. It was also banned in Detroit because of its alleged “lewd” theme, and by the U.S. Post Office in May 1944. The ban lasted only three days, because First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt asked her husband, the president, to have it lifted. He did.

The novel’s title was taken from the famous song of the same name, first recorded by Billie Holiday on April 20, 1939. Holiday’s song was a searing indictment of the lynching of African-Americans, but the novel aroused censors because it dealt with an interracial romance. Smith denied that she took the title from the song.

Read: Lillian Smith, Strange Fruit (1944)

See and Hear Billie Holiday Sing Strange Fruit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4ZyuULy9zs

Learn About the Lillian Smith Book Award: http://www.libs.uga.edu/hargrett/lilliansmith/lsmith.html

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