Steve Mcqueen’s image of the lynching or poplar tree, which is its legit name, has a dark past tied to the African American culture and people. The poplar tree was a tree where many black men and women were hung to death in the early 20th century and it has been illustrated through popular culture in music.
The poplar tree is a symbol for life because of its strong branches, and it is grown and strong and sturdy, but also a symbol for death because of the strange fruit hanging from it. The use of strange fruit as a metaphor, in the song by Strange Fruit by Billie Holiday, really connects the idea of something growing from a tree and producing life. When someone thinks of something fruitful, they will assume its rich with life and purpose and purpose but the adjective “strange” is really what gives the idea of the poplar tree bearing “strange fruit” the opposite of life and relates back to death. In the song strange fruit relate to the black people, and when she sings “Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees” it literally translates to the dark past that poplar trees were used to lynch black people. The poplar trees were not used for bearing life but for the slaughter of African Americans.
Kanye West another popular musician also, took his stance about the poplar tree, and the lynching of black people in his most recent album Yeezus, in the song “Blood on the Leaves”. This is also interesting because Kanye West based his song on the exact same message of “Strange Fruit” but decided to tell it in a more contemporary and modern way to reteach history that may have been forgotten. The title of the song Blood on the Leaves, like “Strange Fruit”, carries a strong message. Blood on the leaves means literally blood of the African American victims that were lynched on the leaves of the tree. It also has a personified meaning of having blood on someones hands after someone kills someone. The trees leaves are now stained because it was used to murder people. Further into the song, the song begins to illustrate the horrors that occurred. Not only did it illustrate it but it began to point fingers to a certain part of America where it happened. “Black bodies swinging in the southern Breeze” literally illustrates that black people were hung high in the tree, and blown around by the southern breeze. The use of the southern breeze is used to remind the listener that it is not in the whole US the lynching has been going on, but it is mainly in the Southern part of the United States. This brings back to the listener of the civil war, slavery and racism that has gone on in the south during the 19th and 20th century.
The poplar tree, represented in this image does not look like much but it has so much history and importance in United States history and culture. The poplar tree’s history which has been illustrated by Billie Holiday back in the early 20th century and most recently by Kanye West in music, shows the dark past of the tree because of the lynching of African American people.
Mcqueen, Steve. “Lynching Tree.” Rap Radar. N.p., 25 Aug. 2013. Web. 1 Oct.
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