Recently, a block away from the Houston NAACP Branch Headquarters, images of “strange fruit” were hanging from trees. More specifically, what appeared to be Black bodies, were seen hung on a tree of a Third Ward resident. The display was supposedly Halloween decorations.
For those unaware, “strange fruit” is the term used to describe Black people who were tortured, beaten, castrated, mutilated and eventually murdered/lynched. Most, though not all lynchings, ended with a Black person being hung from a tree, light pole, bridge, etc.
The late Billie Holiday ran afoul of U.S. officials because she refused to stop singing her song “Strange Fruit” in her bold attempt to raise awareness of the heinous crime of rampant U.S. lynchings of Black people; a crime that was mostly ignored by local, state and federal authorities from the 1870s to the 1960s. In fact, in most cases, local, state and/or federal authorities, especially law enforcement, were leading members of the lynch mobs guilty of inflicting this particular brand of white domestic terrorism upon Black people and Black communities.
According to a statement released by the NAACP Houston Branch, “This would be immeasurably insensitive and racist on anyone’s private property; but the fact that these residents hung the offensive display on City Property was illegal and unacceptable. Thankfully, with the influence of city officials and activists, the nooses have been taken down.”
“Every Houstonian, Texan and American should be outraged by the ‘strange fruit’ displayed in Houston,” added Houston NAACP Branch President Dr. James Dixon.
According to a report issued by the Equal Justice Initiative, between 1877 to 1950, 4,440 lynchings were recorded in the United States. Most historians agree that those numbers grossly underestimate the number of persons murdered during that period by white domestic terrorists.
The Houston NAACP stated it is the organization’s position that the lynching replicas should never be used on any occasion. The same day the NAACP was made aware of the “decorations,” so too was District D City Councilmember Dr. Carolyn Evans-Shabazz, who spoke with the homeowner who put up the “decorations.”
According to Evans-Shabazz, after she explained to the homeowner that those decorations were viewed by most Blacks as offensive, she said he didn’t seem to care, and was abrasive during their conversation.
When a city official determined the “decorations” were in fact on city property, they were cut down.
“Thankfully, with the influence of city officials, including HPD, Councilmember Dr. Carolyn Evans-Shabazz and activists, including leadership of the New Black Panther Party, led by Candice Matthews and Quanell X, and calls made by the Houston NAACP, this issue was addressed and the nooses were removed,” said Dixon.
The Houston NAACP statement further stated, “It’s important that citizens be educated, because messages made through ignorance can be costly and offensive. Lastly, it is our position that leading citizens in our city should join us in condemning this behavior whenever it arises, emphasizing that this doesn’t reflect the spirit of Houston’s respect for all people of every race.”
“Our country’s national crime is lynching,” stated NAACP Co-Founder, the late Ida B. Wells. “It is not the creature of an hour, the sudden outburst of uncontrolled fury, all the unspeakable brutality of an insane mob. It represents the cool, calculating deliberation of intelligent people.”
Wells’ words, which serve as a searing reminder to our generation of the need for continued vigilance against such calculated violence, were reflected in her actions during the convening of the Niagara Movement – the series of meetings that gave birth to the NAACP (Feb 12, 1909).
Wells, a member of the Black Press, argued then that creating an anti-lynching plan of action should be one of the new organization’s top priorities. However, her fellow Niagara Movement delegates considered such a stance too radical.
Yet, here we are, nearly 115 years later, and the threat of lynchings still persists.
“May we never allow racists to be comfortable in America and may we give no peaceful place to advocates of racism and violence in Houston, Texas,” the NAACP Houston statement concluded.