Knowing the accomplishments of those we identify with is one of the most powerful factors in seeing our own potential. Equally important is seeing people with identities we do not share achieving greatness. When history is taught in schools, teachers must ensure that a diverse range of identities are represented. Often textbooks are not the greatest sources for diverse historical figures. Strange Fruit by Joel Christian Gill would be a wonderful supplement to a textbook in a middle school or high school history classroom. There are two volumes of Strange Fruit and while I have only been able to read the first, I am confident that both volumes include historical figures and events that many students have not been introduced to in their studies.
The stories told in Strange Fruit also mirror many interests of young learners. Richard Potter was the first stage magician, Bass Reeves caught criminals in the Old West, and Harry “Bucky” Lew was the first person of color to play professional basketball. These are professions and passions that are not always a part of teaching Black History.
Strange Fruit might serve as a resource in a biographical research project or a tool for comparing and contrasting different experiences. The roles of text and illustration also beg to be considered. Mr. Gill’s use of black crows to symbolize Jim Crow laws is particularly powerful. The book’s title might also lead to a discussion of the meaning of “Strange Fruit” and the Billie Holiday song that promoted awareness of despicable hate crimes across our country. Regardless of how this book is used in schools, it definitely has a place in our educational system.
Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards:
Diversity 8- I am curious and want to know more about other people’s histories and lived experiences, and I ask questions respectfully and listen carefully and non-judgmentally.
Diversity 10- I can explain how the way groups of people are treated today, and the way they have been treated in the past, shapes their group identity and culture.
Justice 12- I can recognize and describe unfairness and injustice in many forms including attitudes, speech, behaviors, practices and laws.
Justice 14- I know that all people (including myself) have certain advantages and disadvantages in society based on who they are and where they were born.
RI.3- Connections among and distinctions between individuals, ideas, or events.
RI.5- Analyze the structure of a text.
RI.7- Use of different mediums to convey information.