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The NYC Teacher Unionist Behind “Strange Fruit”

NPR’s Morning Edition today had the fascinating story of Abel Meeropol, the New York City teacher unionist and social activist who penned “Strange Fruit,” one of Billie Holiday’s most haunting and powerful recordings.

Meeropol, who graduated from the Bronx’s Dewitt Clinton HS in 1921 and later taught English there for 17 years, wrote the poem after seeing a photo of a lynching. It was first printed in a teachers union publication. He set it to music, and it eventually made its way to Billie Holiday.

But here’s where his story really gets interesting: He was also the adoptive father of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg’s two sons.

Robert Meeropol [né Rosenberg] says that in the months following his parents’ execution, it was unclear who would take care of him and his brother. It was the height of McCarthyism. Even family members were fearful of being in any way associated with the Rosenbergs or Communism.

Then, at a Christmas party at the home of W.E.B. Du Bois, the boys were introduced to Abel and Anne Meeropol. A few weeks later, they were living with them.

Read the rest at NPR.org »

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3 Comments:

  • 1 Lisa Harbatkin
    · Sep 5, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    It was great to hear this on NPR.
    There is more to the Teachers Union part of the story, and a lot of the history and background to the teacher purges of the 1950s at http://www.dreamersandfighters.com.
    There is also an essay Robert Meeropol at the Children of the Blacklist page at the Dreamers & Fighters web site.

  • 2 Remainders: Harder-to-game test added to city’s G&T screening | GothamSchools
    · Sep 5, 2012 at 7:49 pm

    [...] The important anti-lynching song “Strange Fruit” first appeared in a teachers union pamphlet. (Edwize) [...]

  • 3 phyllis c murray
    · Sep 6, 2012 at 2:20 am

    Re. The NYC teacher behind “Strange Fruit” Martin Luther King said the following: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” ―. We need more educators like Meeropol today. Certainly teachers were activists during the turbulent 60s in America. These courageous and humane individuals advocated for children and continued to motivate, and inspire the next generation as the quest for civil rights continued in our nation’s schools, communities, and workplaces. And this was just one facet of union work.