Lillian Smith’s first novel, Strange Fruit, tells the story of an interracial love affair in the South between a white boy and an educated African American woman. The novel contains several descriptions of sexual intercourse and masturbation and ends with a murder and a lynching. Massachusetts state authorities banned the book, but the literary scholar Bernard DeVoto challenged the ban. A judge found that Smith’s book violated the state law barring material that either was “obscene, indecent, impure” or that tended to “corrupt the morals of youth.” In his view, the work raised “lascivious thoughts” in the mind of the reader and aroused “lustful desire,” so it should not be sold in the state. When the U.S. Post Office tried to prohibit shipping the book between states by mail, Eleanor Roosevelt intervened and got the order rescinded.
A few years later the author and her sister, Esther, adapted the novel into a play, which had a successful run on Broadway and in Canada. Irish authorities, however, refused to let the book be sold or the play be performed in Dublin. The original novel sold more than 200,000 copies in the United States, though most bookstores took it off their shelves after the ruling in Massachusetts and refused to sell it any more.