How Billie Holiday Was Targeted by America’s Early Drug War

By Jamilah King Jan 21, 2015

Politico Magazine has a fascinating excerpt from Johann Hari’s new book, "Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs." In it, Hari chronicles how Harry Anslinger, the former head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, steered his agency in the years immediately following Prohibition toward prosecuting black American jazz artists, who he said "reek of filth."

One night, in 1939, Billie Holiday stood on stage in New York City and sang a song that was unlike anything anyone had heard before. ‘Strange Fruit’ was a musical lament against lynching. It imagined black bodies hanging from trees as a dark fruit native to the South. Here was a black woman, before a mixed audience, grieving for the racist murders in the United States. Immediately after, Billie Holiday received her first threat from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics.

It’s a fascinating and, in many ways, heartbreaking, story. Read the excerpt in its entirety at Politico Magazine.