Society

PR Firm Faces Backlash For Controversial Name Referencing Jim Crow Era Lynching

| by Sean Kelly

An Austin, Texas Public Relations firm that represents local restaurants is changing the name of their company after facing intense criticism over the original name’s connection to Jim Crow era lynching.

Strange Fruit PR disabled their social media accounts after receiving tweets from people that claimed the term was racially insensitive. “Strange Fruit” is a song made famous by singer Billie Holiday that addresses the murder of black men and women in the south during the Jim Crow era.

“Southern trees bear a strange fruit,” the song says. “Blood on the leaves and blood at the root, Black body swinging in the Southern breeze, strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees."

Those who criticized the company demanded that they change their name due to the term’s racially insensitive nature. “Why would a PUBLIC RELATIONS FIRM choose a name that represents black people being lynched/murdered? Have you no class?” one tweet read.

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According to KHOU the company shut down their social media accounts after vowing to change their name. Initially, though, representatives defended their name choice when responding to critics. “Our passion is telling the stories of hospitality professionals. We chose our name bc these incredibly talented artists stand out in a crowd,” one tweet read. “We believe in hospitality. Including all. No exclusion. The author & its famous singer hoped for a world where that would be a possibility.”

Following continued backlash, the company decided to change their name after all, and issued an apology to Statesman.com.

“We were wrong,” the firm’s statement read. “We extend our deepest and sincerest apologies for the offense caused by the name of our public relations firm.

“We thought the name would be perfect for a hospitality PR firm that specializes in food and drink. We of course Googled to ensure that it was not taken elsewhere and found the Billie Holiday song online. Thinking it would have nothing to do with our firm, and since it was written in 1939 it wouldn’t be top of mind in the public consciousness,” co-founder Mary Mickel said in an email. “We now know we were naïve to think that, and should have known better.

“Had we known the horrible connotations this name evokes, we would have never chosen it in the first place. We just didn’t get it, but now we do. We truly just wanted to encompass the uniqueness and creative individuality that our clients reflect. Our new name will reflect just that.”

The firm had been receiving sporadic questions regarding its name for the past two years, but the past weekend has seen a particularly large amount of controversy erupt over the term. Statesman.com reported that none of the company’s clients have indicated they would be cutting ties.

Sources: KHOU, Statesman.com / Photo Credit: en.wikipedia.org