(guest blog by RFC Communications Director, Amber Black)
Two topics consistently engage our supporters more than any others: the case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and the song “Strange Fruit.” It’s been 65 years since the parents of our founder were executed, and 80 years since Abel Meeropol (the man who along with his wife Anne, adopted the Rosenbergs’ orphaned sons) wrote the anti-lynching anthem first as a poem and then set it to music.
But all these decades later, both the case and the song pop up virtually every day in a huge array of contexts including hard news and popular culture. So we’ve begun to spotlight them in a “Strange Fruit” and Rosenberg “Mention of the Day” on our social media.
Before Donald Trump’s political career, the Rosenberg case occupied a prominent spot in the annals of U.S. history, and made the couple a frequent touchstone. They’re the subject of novels, plays, operas, comic books, even dance pieces, along with countless books and articles that examine the legal and historical aspects of the case. Ethel is a key character in the epic theatrical masterpiece “Angels in America,” which had a triumphant revival on Broadway this year.
But since Trump’s rise to power, the frequency of Rosenberg references has exploded. In the fallout from the Russia investigation alone, hardly a day goes by when Ethel and Julius aren’t being written or talked about, often in relation to the notorious attorney Roy Cohn (who not coincidentally, is also a character in “Angels”).
Cohn – the member of the prosecution team who engineered false testimony against the Rosenbergs and was especially culpable in Ethel’s wrongful conviction and execution – not only went on to aid McCarthy and Nixon at other points in his morally bankrupt career, but also was an influential mentor and lawyer to a young Donald Trump.
A convincing case has been made that Trump models his style of attacking his enemies and demanding loyalty from his allies, on tactics he learned from Cohn. In fact, The New York Times reported that in response to Jeff Sessions recusing himself from the Mueller investigation, “the president erupted in anger in front of numerous White House officials, saying he needed his attorney general to protect him…Mr. Trump then asked, ‘Where’s my Roy Cohn?’ He was referring to his former personal lawyer and fixer, who had been Senator Joseph R. McCarthy’s top aide during the investigations into communist activity in the 1950s and died in 1986.”
These current echoes of the Cold War Red Scare days are undeniable, as are the similarities between past and present manifestations of racism. “Strange Fruit” has become shorthand not just for Jim Crow era lynchings, but for modern police killings of African Americans, mass incarceration and the death penalty.
The words and themes from the iconic song appear in countless works of art, including in dance, painting (e.g. Lloyd G. Wade's "Strange Fruit" pictured above), sculpture, theater and other genres. They’ve been incorporated into academic studies of health and mortality, and into a themed cocktail menu in a southern city (to much controversy). Every day in places as far flung as Australia and India, they appear in reviews of musical performances and in essays about cultural history. “Strange Fruit” has become a ubiquitous and devastating metaphor about personal, societal and institutional racism.
Because of the prevalence of Rosenberg and “Strange Fruit” references and their significance to our organization, the RFC tracks and highlights them on our social media via “Mentions of the Day.” To see these posts, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and look for #RosenbergMOTD and #StrangeFruitMOTD posts where we describe and link to the sources.
Along with following us, we’d be grateful if you’d take a few simple actions on Facebook that can help you and others see our content. Please “Like” our Page and react to, share and comment on our posts, all of which encourage Facebook to show our content to more people (and also to you) more prominently.
Equally important, please set the RFC page to “See First” in your newsfeed, to make sure you’re shown our posts in the first place. To do so on the desktop app, hover over the “Following” button just under our banner at the top of our Page, and select the “See First” option from the “In Your Newsfeed” menu that will appear. On mobile, tap the button with three dots under our logo near the top of our Page, then tap the “Following” menu, and finally the “See First” option. (See desktop and mobile screenshots below.)
The more you interact with our content, the more other people will see it and become part of our community. And the stronger and more vibrant our community, the more we can do to help the children of resistance we serve.
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