Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Peering inside 1944's "Strange Fruit" by Lillian Smith

This 1944 hardcover cover of Lillian Smith's "Strange Fruit" has some elements inside that caught my eye.

Smith was "a white woman who openly embraced controversial positions on matters of race and gender equality" and "a southern liberal unafraid to criticize segregation and work toward the dismantling of Jim Crow laws, at a time when such actions almost guaranteed social ostracism," according to Wikipedia.

"Strange Fruit" is a novel of interracial love that was quite controversial upon publication. Here's an excerpt about the book's reception from The New Georgia Encyclopedia:
In hindsight, the controversy that greeted the publication of Lillian Smith's Strange Fruit in 1944 seems unusually heated today. This novel of interracial love was denounced in many places for its "obscenity," although sex is barely mentioned.

Massachusetts banned it for a short time; so did the U.S. Post Office. But the book has had many admirers in the years since its publication. It was a commercial success — a best-seller, a Broadway play briefly — and it remains in print in many languages.
While the book itself is notable, some other elements inside grabbed my attention:

Above: There is a blue bookseller label for Herr's Book Store in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.1 L.B. Herr's Book Store, which is no longer in business, dates to at least the early 20th century. According to the caption on this Flickr photo, L.B. Herr's was once located at 53 & 55 Inquirer Building, North Queen Street, in Lancaster before moving to its "landmark" location on West King Street. (It's interesting to think that a Lancaster book store was progressive enough to stock and sell the controversial "Strange Fruit" in 1944.)

Above: This is one the most attractive bookplates I've come across, with its inscription: "I enjoy sharing my books as I do my friends, asking only that you treat them well and see them safely home." The name Verna H. Morgan is inscribed on the inside front cover of the book.

Above: This copy of "Strange Fruit" was produced during World War II, so the above note details the "paper quota" and the specifics of the wartime edition's production.

1. For more on bookseller labels, see this post: "Brentano's, the American Bookstore in Paris"

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if this book was the inspiration behind the Billie Holiday song of the same name (but that's about lynchings).

    I LOVE that Herr's label! The bookplate's great too! :D