Singer and songwriter Elijah Blake pleads for release from deadly racism on his new song “Hanging Tree.” The video for the track debuted today (June 1) via Harry Belafonte’s social justice organization Sankofa.org.
“Everybody’s praying for peace, but who’s gonna protect us from the police?” he sings ahead of the song’s chorus: “Keep these chains off me, ‘cause I don’t wanna be another seed underneath the hanging tree.”
The song invokes lynching imagery, and the music video reaches further into the painful history of anti-Black violence. In it, Blake sheds his tuxedo to reveal crimson whipping wounds on his upper body. He then appears with his wrists bound in chained cuffs, which he breaks at the video’s conclusion.
“I wrote ‘Hanging Tree’ as a way to use my voice for equal rights, especially Black rights, in the aftermath of tragedies like Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice and so many others whose voices have been silenced,” Blake told The Fader. “When I recorded this song, I wanted to have a way to express my feelings, despite at the time not having an album to attach this to.”
“Hanging Tree” eventually found a home on “17,” a visual EP released by Sankofa.org and Tidal in February. “17” takes its title from Trayvon Martin’s age when vigilante George Zimmerman killed him. The 17-minute project stars singer Jordan Grizzle as Jacobi Nelson, a 17-year-old who rides his American flag-adorned bike around town while considering a scholarship opportunity until he encounters a cop car’s blue-and-red lights.
Watch “Hanging Tree” above and “17” on YouTube.