The Hanging Tree
Joe Minter’s title The Hanging Tree references the trees that were used to hang African Americans in many Southern towns. Between 1877 and 1950, 326 African Americans were lynched in Minter’s native Alabama. The 1981 Ku Klux Klan lynching of Michael Donald, the last recorded in the United States, also took place in Alabama.
In this sculpture, abstract steel rods representing nameless and faceless human bodies are suspended from a treelike base. The chains symbolize slavery and subjugation in life—and perhaps liberation from theses states in death. The subject recalls Abel Meeropol’s 1937 poem about lynching, “Bitter Fruit,” which was wade famous two years later when it was recorded as the song “Strange Fruit”by the singer Billie Holiday. According to the lyrics of the song: “Southern trees bear a strange fruit / Blood on the leaves and blood at the root / Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze / Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.” —Timothy Anglin Burgard