Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swingin’ in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees – “Strange Fruit” 
The first time I heard “Strange Fruit”, a song popularized by legendary jazz songstress Billie Holiday, I was transfixed. Lulled by the soft piano and hauntingly beautiful voice, it took me a second listen to realize what this song was truly about: lynching. Written first as a poem in the 1930s and then set to music by Abel Meeropol, a Jewish schoolteacher from New York, the song was a horrified response to a photo of the lynching of two African-American men in Indiana.  Popularized by Billie Holiday in 1939, many consider “Strange Fruit” the first protest song against racism and lynching. In an era of terror where the wrong word or glance could lead to a horrific death, any form of protest or resistance was extremely risky. However, that doesn’t mean that blacks stood by passively. Although the Civil Rights Movement most visibly began in the 1950s and 60s, there were countless moments of subtle and bold resistance against racism by both black and whites throughout the Jim Crow era when lynching and racially motivated violence was at its highest.
In Uncle Tom’s Children, Richard Wright describes getting his “Jim Crow education” while growing up in the South. Wright paints a disturbing picture of how African Americans encountered and struggled against white racism and an obviously unbalanced power dynamic on a daily basis. Actions, words, and gestures were scrutinized through a lens of white supremacy and often arbitrarily reacted to with vicious hate and violence. Wright claims, “Here I learned to lie, to steal, to dissemble. I learned to play that duel role which every Negro must play if he wants to eat and live.”  He learns through various encounters with whites how to subvert the systemic racism in small ways to maintain his livelihood, his ambitions, and his dignity. The scene that perfectly encapsulates this is when Wright ends up in an elevator with several white men and his arms are too full to take off his hat, which is a sign of “disrespect”. One of the white men takes off his hat for him, and Wright’s two options are to give the main a grateful subservient grin or to say “Thank you” and possibly elicit a violent reaction. Neither option appeals to Wright, who instead pretends to drop the packages to preserve his dignity and his neck. Although this may seem minuscule compared to the seemingly insurmountable force of racism, small instances of resistance could over time begin to shift the mentality and culture towards one of outright dissent.
Conversely, Kidada Williams talks about the more outright things African Americans did to combat lynching in “Regarding the Aftermaths of Lynching”. Not only was the crime of lynching atrocious, but it had devastating effects on the families and communities of the victims. Despite the very real danger, many families spoke out or tried to get more information of the death of their loved ones. Williams claims that, “Although there are silences, the lynching archive is by no means mute. African Americans told their families and friends about lynched love ones; they filed lawsuits and wrote letters to elected officials, newspaper editors, lawyers, journalists, and activists.”  Both these bold and outright forms of resistance as well as the small daily ones combined to help form the foundation for the Civil Rights Movement in the decades to come.
Music, legal action, and small daily acts of protest were all forms of resisting the atrocious white racism and culture of fear inspired by lynching and racially motivated violence. However, what constitutes resistance or protest is often debated. Clearly it doesn’t always involve marches or strikes, but is transcending class lines through education a form of resistance? Or successfully taking care of your family in a hostile environment? Are all types of resistance effectual? How has the face of resistance changed as the cultural and racial dynamic of the United States shifted over time?
 Billie Holiday, “Strange Fruit,” You Tube video, 2:33, November 25 2006, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4ZyuULy9zs
 Elizabeth Blair, “The Strange Story Of The Man Behind ‘Strange Fruit’,” NPR, September 5, 2012. http://www.npr.org/2012/09/05/158933012/the-strange-story-of-the-man-behind-strange-fruit.
 Richard Wright, “The Ethics of Jim Crow” in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, New York: Harper Perennial, 2004
 Kidada E. Williams, “Regarding the Aftermaths of Lynching,” Journal of American History 101, no. 3 (December 2014): 856-858