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.