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The Feds vs. the Activists | Billie Holiday | 1

The Feds vs. the Activists | Billie Holiday | 1

Tue, 20 Oct 2020 09:00

Billie Holiday makes a decision. The jazz singer will perform "Strange Fruit," the protest song about lynchings, no matter what happens to her—and no matter how many times law enforcement tells her to stay quiet. But that puts her in the crosshairs of one federal official, who uses any means necessary to silence Holiday.

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A listener note, this episode contains references to sexual assault and racial violence and may not be suitable for younger listeners. It's January 1939 in New York City. Tonight, Billy Holiday stands backstage at the Café Society Club in Greenwich Village. It's 9 p.m. and time for her to go on stage. Holiday runs her fingers along her forearms. Her skin is covered in goose bumps. That's not because of the cold winter air that's leaking into the club. Tonight, Holiday is supposed to sing a brand new song, one that could get her into big trouble. Normally, she wouldn't worry about a single song. Holiday is 23 years old, but already, she's toured with jazz grates like Count Basie and Arty Shaw. She loves dazzling audiences with her voice, and long ago, she learned that the stage was the one place where she felt safe. But tonight is different. The song she's about to perform could destroy her career. It's the type of song that makes record producers tear up contracts and club owners cancel bookings. And Holiday knows it's also the kind of song that brings the police knocking on your door. Holiday takes a sip of water and shakes her head. Performing this song is a major risk, and she's not certain it's worth it, no matter how strong that she feels about the song's message. Just then, she hears footsteps. She turns to see Barney Josephson, the owner of the club. He slender, well dressed, with dark, slicked back hair. He smiles. You look gorgeous, Billy. Ready to knock your socks off? Holiday pauses. And then she makes a quick decision. Hmm, change the plans. We don't need that last song. Oh, no, Billy, that's a big mistake. I think doing the song is the mistake, Barney. Trust me, those people out there, they don't want to hear all that. Well, who cares what they want to hear? It's what they need to hear. That's what you think, but you're not me, and you don't have to live with that decision. I'm just not singing it, okay? If you don't sing that song tonight, you'll never forgive yourself. That's why you're so scared. Oh, why I'm scared, but that's not why. I don't think you'll ever understand, but you know what? Holiday swallows hard, and straightens the flowers that drape across her hair. She feels something welling up inside her, something she feels like she can't contain. And you know what? You are right. I do have to sing that song. So Barney, don't change a thing. Just make sure my microphone's on. Josephson paths her on the back, and steps through the curtains. Holiday takes deep breath. She knows that she's just made one of the biggest decisions of her life, and there's no change in her mind now. Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for my dear friend, Billy Holiday. The curtains part and Holiday steps up to the polished steel microphone. A narrow spotlight illuminates her face. She launches straight into her set, and as always, she pours her heart and soul into every note. Finally, Holiday reaches the final song of her set. She pauses, looking out of the crowd. It's a mix of black and white jazz connoisseurs, sitting shoulder to shoulder. She feels a lump in her throat. Because New York is a far cry from the Jim Crow South, where black people face constant harassment just for living their lives. That suffering is something that Holiday feels deep in her bones. Because just two years back in Texas, her father came down with pneumonia. When he went to the hospital and begged for help, the white doctors told him they wouldn't see black patients. So he went home. And the morning he was found dead, his mouth was stretched wide in a final, desperate gasp for air. Holiday stands on stage, remembering her father, and suddenly her mood shifts. Her fear is gone, replaced by anger and a feeling of purpose. She closes her eyes and begins singing the final song. Her voice rises and falls through the words, black body swinging in the southern breeze. Strange fruit hanging from the popular trees. Holiday continues singing the song, strange fruit, an angry protest against the lynching of black people in America. And when the final note fades away, she opens her eyes. There's an eerie silence. Nobody in the audience moves. Then all it wants the crowd roars in a pause. Holiday stares at the audience, unable to move. She knows that tonight, she took one of the biggest risks of her entire life. She dared to sing about the horrors of racial violence in America. She feels light on her feet after taking such a bold step. But holiday also knows that from now on, she'll attract a very different kind of attention. And it'll come not just from her fans, but from those who disagree with her, from those who want to stop her, from the police, and from the feds. Officially, one hour until your favorite show premieres, time to get some snacks delivered through Instacart. Okay, let's get some popcorn, seltzer, chocolate covered almonds, and... Wait, did they release the whole season? Better cart some ice cream for the two part finale. When your day should be ending, but a new season is starting, the world is your cart. Visit or download the app and get free delivery on your first order. Offer valid for a limited time, minimum order $10 additional terms apply. Lots of people don't know it, but autumn is an ideal time to plant. shorter days and cooler nights create ideal conditions for the plants to get established. If you're looking to spruce up your home, proven winners color choice shrubs has an amazing selection of flowering shrubs and evergreens for planting and gardens and landscapes. With around 320 different proprietary varieties, including classics limelight hydrangea and little Henry sweet spire, all of their shrubs are trialed and tested for 8 to 10 years to ensure they outperform anything else on the market. Look for proven winners color choice shrubs in the distinctive white containers at your local garden center. Learn more and find a local retailer at proven winners color slash wundry. That's proven winners color slash wundry. From wundry, I'm Lindsey Graham and this is American Skin. In 1939, Billy Holiday took a major risk when she got up on stage to sing the song Strange Fruit. At the time, lynchings were common in America. Historians estimate that some 4,000 black men, women, and children were lynched in the United States between 1877 and 1950. Holiday was one of the first popular black entertainers to address these crimes in her work. And while Strange Fruit would change the course of her career, it would also bring her into conflict with federal law enforcement. One powerful official would target Holiday, taking issue with her civil rights activism. That official would use any means to stop her from singing the protest song further. This story is the first in a four part series examining how US federal agencies try to stop the civil rights movement. Federal officials targeted not just Billy Holiday, but prominent organizers, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Fred Hampton, who led the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party. The federal surveillance, interference, and intimidation would span decades and eventually face a moment of truth. This is episode one, Billy Holiday. It's the spring of 1945 in Washington, DC. Harry Ann Slinger sits in his office riding furiously when there's a knock on the door. Ann Slinger clears his throat and then commands the visitor to enter. Into the room steps Jimmy Fletcher. The man worked for Ann Slinger as a narcotics agent. In fact, he's one of a small army that Ann Slinger himself commands. Harry Ann Slinger is the head of the federal bureau of narcotics, the government agency that fights drug crimes. An agent like Fletcher helped him get the job done. But as Ann Slinger looks Fletcher over, he can't help but clenches jaws. He'll never get used to the idea of working in the same office as a black man. But he reminds himself that Fletcher can be useful, and that's why he summoned him today. Ann Slinger tells Fletcher to sit and cracks his knuckles. He then explains that Fletcher has a new assignment. He pushes a folder across the desk and tells Fletcher to study the contents. Fletcher opens the file. He glances through the notes and his eyes widen. He says he recognizes the woman. It's Billy Holiday, the jazz singer. At the mention of her name, Ann Slinger's hands curl into fists. He tells Fletcher that Holiday is no singer. She's scum, and she's forgotten her place in society. Ann Slinger explains that for the last six years, she's performed a song called Strange Fruit. It's lyrics or vile and improper. They have the dangerous potential to rile up black Americans to make them question the natural order of things. Ann Slinger notices that Fletcher has grown tense. The agent looks up from the file, his eyes narrow with skepticism. Then he says that Strange Fruit is just a song. Ann Slinger shakes his head. He explains that he already ordered Holiday to stop seeing Strange Fruit. He actually confronted her himself in one of her filthy little clubs, but she refused. She disobeyed a US federal agent, and now it's time to pay the price. Ann Slinger smiles and tells Fletcher that it's his job to put Holiday behind bars. Ann Slinger grabs a folder on his desk and pulls out an intelligence report. Holiday, he says, is a drug addict, and that's where the bureau comes in. Ann Slinger sits back as Fletcher looks over the report. Ann Slinger knows that this is more than just a helpful tool to silence Holiday. Fighting drug crimes, he believes, is the most important work in the United States. He believes that drug users should be locked up. They're immoral. So it makes sense that Billy Holiday uses heroin. She is also immoral, and if they can get her on drug charges, that's just two birds with one stone. Fletcher finishes reading the file and looks up. Then he asks how he fits into the picture. Ann Slinger explains that because Fletcher is black, he'll go undercover. He'll meet Holiday, gain her trust, gather evidence on her drug use. Once they're ready, they'll raid Holiday's home. Ann Slinger asks Fletcher if he understands the mission. Fletcher pauses, and then nods. Ann Slinger's eyes grow steely, and he reminds Fletcher to never forget where his loyalty's lie. He then turns back to his notes and orders Fletcher to close the door on his way out. It's spring, 1945, in New York City. Billy Holiday jolt out of bed with a scream. It's pitch black in her cramped Harlem apartment, and she's alone. Yet she wasn't alone in her nightmare, and she wasn't 30 years old either. She was a scared girl, and a man towered over her, reaching for her dress. As she remembers the dream, tears begin rolling down her cheeks. Slowly her eyes adjust to the dark, and the feeling of despair only grows worse as she takes in her surroundings. Holiday has performed in some of the most celebrated nightclubs and concert halls in the country. Her albums have sold hundreds of thousands of copies, and yet here she is, in a flop house, infested by rats. No matter how hard she tries, she can't put her finger on where she went wrong. Sure, she smokes, she drinks, and occasionally she cooks up brown powder and shoots it into her veins, but she's not the only entertainer with vices. The simple truth is, black singers aren't valued by those who cut the checks. Black female singers are valued even less. Holiday's size. Maybe she'd be treated better if she'd just played by the rules. Holiday flops back down her bed. Now she thinks that's just not possible. Playing by the rules means she'd have to stop singing, strange fruit. That's not something she's willing to do. Not while black people are still getting lynched in the south. So Holiday tries to get back to sleep, but she's afraid she'll have the nightmare again, the same she's had since she was a young girl. When she's feeling low like this, there are only two things that help. Singing is one of them. The other is buried in the nightstand. So she gets up, opens a drawer, and stares at a syringe. It's half filled with the amber liquid she cooked up earlier. She doesn't want to use it, but she feels an itch. And she knows, on nights like this, she has to scratch it. So she grabs this syringe and pushes the needle into her thigh. She then uses her thumb down on the plunger. Right away, she feels drowsy and numb. And as sleep overtakes her, she clings to a desperate hope. And someday she'll lead a good life, a life in which she'll be free to sing any song she chooses. It's late evening on May 15th, 1947. Jimmy Fletcher stands in front of an unmarked wooden door in Harlem. Fletcher, the undercover narcotics agent, smooths out his red jacket and tilts the brim of his fedora. Then he rings the bell. Soon he hears the clicks of multiple locks being unlatched. A young black woman in a flimsy dressing gown opens the door just to crack. Fletcher says he's here to see Billy, and the woman steps aside to let him in. Fletcher saunter's into the brothel with a smirk. Now he's fully in character, but always mindful of the mission. Fletcher needs to keep gathering intelligence on holiday. He spent time with her and jazz clubs and at the homes of some of her closest friends. They've grown close, and tonight holiday called him and asked to get together. She said to meet her at a brothel. Now Fletcher stands in the foyer glancing around. It's then he's hit with a visceral feeling of revulsion. He knows the people here are criminals and deserve to be in prison. They may have the same skin color as him, but he doesn't feel any allegiance to people who commit crimes. So gazing around, Fletcher feels even more resolute and asks the young prostitute to point him toward holiday's room. Soon enough he's standing in an open doorway looking at holiday. She's in a snug, emerald green dress, and Fletcher watches as she takes a quick snort of cocaine. Fletcher's heart begins to race. It's a scandalous sight, yet Fletcher can't help but notice her long eyelashes. A moment later, holiday catches sight of Fletcher and greets him excitedly. It takes off his fedora and asks why in the world she wanted to meet here. Holiday rolls her eyes, and says she's comfortable in places like this. Here you can do whatever you want and no one judges you. She may not work here, but truth be told, she once worked in a place like this. Fletcher feels his muscles go tight. Suddenly he feels the urge to lift her up to bring her somewhere nice and proper, but he stifles that desire and instead asks again why she'd ever spend time in a brothel. Holiday grins and says that sometimes what goes on in a place like this is better than what goes on at home. Fletcher can't stop himself. He asks just what went on at home, but holiday shakes her head and looks away. Then she scoops up some white powder into a vial and places the vial in her purse. She turns to him suddenly and asks if they can go to a movie. Fletcher smiles and says sure, he'd be happy too. So she asks him to wait outside while she changes clothes. As Fletcher stands in the hallway, he has a sinking feeling in his stomach. He doesn't want holiday to be arrested, but he also can't disobey Harry Anselinger's orders. If he does, he'll be fired and could end up in jail himself or knowing Anselinger, something much worse. No Fletcher decides the time has come. He saw holiday put cocaine into her purse just now. It will still be there when he drops her off at home tonight. So as soon as he leaves her apartment, Fletcher will contact headquarters and the raid will unfold. It's late morning on May 16th, 1947. Billy Holiday sits at the kitchen table in her Harlem apartment eating a bowl of Cheerios and reading a Superman comic book. She stifles a yawn. She had a fun time with Jimmy Fletcher last night. It's nice to have a friend like that, man who actually listens to her who treats her with respect. She hasn't experienced that kind of friendship with a man before. And until recently, she didn't believe it was even possible. Holiday takes another bite of cereal. When she hears a loud knock on the door, she looks up, startled. Who's there? Billy, it's me. Jimmy, is that you? Holiday walks to the door and unlocks it, and there in the hallway is Jimmy Fletcher. But today he's wearing a navy jacket and tie. Holiday furrows her eyebrows. Jimmy, what's up? What are you doing here? Billy, we have to talk about what? Also, what's with your clothes? You look like a cop? Billy, this is how I dress in real life, you understand? Holiday feels her stomach lurch. Now, thinking she takes a step backward, what the hell's going? You're saying you're a cop? I'm a special agent with a Bureau of Narcotics. No, no, no, no, no, no. This doesn't need to be hard. We just need to get it over with. I know you must be scared, but I can help you through it. I promise. You promise? You promise? I trusted you. Holiday shoves Fletcher as hard as she can. He staggers back. It's then a white man in a jacket and tie comes running up the stairs. He scouts at them both. There are problem here, Fletcher. Oh, who's this, Jimmy? You're a little partner. Man, step forward, menacingly. Watch the tone, lady. I'm the guy who's going to search this rat's nest. I get out of my way. The other agent pushes past them. Before Holiday can say a word, he starts opening drawers in the kitchen, throwing the contents on the floor. Fletcher calls out. It's not necessary, Johnson. I told you it's in her purse. Yeah? Well, I know how you people like to cover for each other. I'll do the search and you just shut your mouth, boy. Holiday sees the pain on Fletcher's face, but all she can muster is a scowl. She shakes her head and disgust. You'll get no sympathy from her. Fletcher turns. Listen, Billy, they're going to do a strip search, but don't worry. It won't be me and it won't be him. We have a female agent on the way. Holiday glairs at him. Hot rage burning inside her. She then makes a decision and doesn't give it a second thought. If she's going to suffer, then Fletcher can suffer with her. We don't have to wait for some female agent. With that, Holiday pulls off her sweater and she drops her skirt. Yeah, Billy, no. Just wait. She's on her way. But Billy, Holiday, doesn't respond. She continues unhooking her bra and removing her underwear. All the while, she keeps her eyes trained on Fletcher with a look of fury. The Fletcher appears pained and miserable. It turns his head away. Billy, why are you doing this? I didn't do it, Jimmy. You did. You need to remember that. A moment later, Holiday hears police sirens approaching. She knows what's in store for her. They're coming to take her to jail. She stands there, nude, as the police sirens grow louder and louder. Holiday can't believe it. She should have seen this coming. When she went on stage and sang strange fruit, she knew she'd made powerful enemies. But she put that thought out of her mind. And then when she met Jimmy Fletcher, she let down her guard. She thought maybe possibly he was different from all other men. Once again, she should have known better. She should have seen all of this coming. As Holiday stands in her apartment, naked. She feels a fury unlike any other she's felt before. People like Jimmy Fletcher, people who want things to stay as they always have been, they'll continue to try and silence her. But they won't succeed. Because right then, Holiday decides she'll keep seeing strange fruit. She'll keep fighting, no matter how hard her enemies fight back and use her voice as a weapon. Hi, this is Famous Formula One Driver Will Arnett. Join me in comedian Mika Hakenen on our new Formula One radio program, The Fast and Loosed Post Show live on AMP every race Sunday. Download the AMP app today and follow AMP Presents F1 to join the show. What if your family was the victim of a home invasion? Where you woke up in the morgue, or you were seriously injured, miles from help? What would you do? This is actually happening. Ask our listeners this very question, while we bring you captivating real life stories of trauma and perseverance. This is actually happening, brings listeners extraordinary true stories from the people who lived them. You'll hear stories about conflict, turmoil, or threats that dramatically alter the course of someone's life. Each episode is an exploration of the human spirit and how survivors manage to overcome hardship and move on with their lives, even thriving afterward. The new season of this is actually happening, is available ad free only with Wondry Plus. And if this new season isn't enough, you can listen to more than 120 exclusive episodes available only to Wondry Plus subscribers. Join Wondry Plus on Apple Podcasts or on the Wondry app. It's May 1947. It's been a day since Billy Holiday was hauled off to jail on drug charges. She was released on bail this morning, and right now she's in New York City standing on stage at Club Ebony. She sighs, feeling relief coursing through her body. It's good to be back in the Stimley lit club. Ebony is one of her favorite places to sing. Standing on stage she feels home once again. Holiday straightens the large white Gardina that's tucked behind her left ear. She looks out at the audience as little particles of dust hover in the stage lights. She takes a deep breath, and then she begins to sing Strange Fruit. The song has become her signature finale. For eight years now she's been warned to stop, to sing something else, something less charged. But that's only strengthen her resolve. Because she knows that if it threatens people this much, then its message must truly be powerful. She can't even count the number of fans who have thanked her and said they finally feel like their voices are being heard. Holiday knows she needs to keep singing the protest song, no matter how angry it makes certain people. Upon stage her voice is strong, and when she finishes the song she gets yet another thunderous applause. Holiday wipes her forehead, her throat aches, and so do her feet. So she heads off stage and straight to the bar. But as she stares into her first drink of the night, Holiday hears the screech of a bar stool being pulled up. She turns her head and there, standing beside her, is Jimmy Fletcher. Holiday shakes her head and returns her attention to the drink in front of her. You've got some nerve, Jimmy. Or is it Agent Fletcher? Billy, look. You're gonna run back to your master? Tell him I did the song again? That's gotta be worth another promotion, right? Fletcher looks down at the floor. I didn't get promoted for what I did to you. Billy, please can I sit? Holiday shrugs and turns away. Fletcher sits, signals the part under. I have a whisking need, and since when did you drink? Since about five minutes after they took you away. By the hell you're here, you came to apologize. Holiday snorts with laughter, coughing if she tries to swallow a sip of her drink. Apologize. Now that I've never seen a man apologizing. I'll save it. I don't need your apology. I know that, but I had to see you. Oh, so now you need something else. Another thing for you, so you can feel better about yourself? I just get out of here. Leave me alone. Fletcher leans in closer though, his eyes full of regret. I wanted you to know that I'm going to talk to my boss. I'm gonna tell him to go easy. I want to help if I can. You, you want to help? Now, go. Go now. I just want to be myself. Billy, please, I'll leave. Fine. If you want to help yourself, cut out the drugs. I can't. You can't. Why? Because if I'm not high and I'm not singing, I'm hurting. Get it? Fletcher shakes it's head. No, no, I don't. Now, look, I know you had a rough childhood, but holiday slants were glassed down on the bar. She's lost her patience. Rough childhood. You know what I've been through. You know what I see when I fall asleep. Back in Baltimore one day, my mother. She's late coming home from work, right? So I get to go to my neighbor's house. After a while, my neighbor, he says, looks like I could use a nap. So he takes me into the back bedroom. He lays me down on a bed and he climbs on top of me. I tried to fight back. I couldn't. He was a full grown man. I was 10 year old girl. So yeah, I had a rough childhood. Fletcher swallows hard. I'm really sorry, Billy. Sauries don't help. Music helps. Drinking helps. Drugs help. Then focus on the music. You don't need the other stuff. Holiday stares back into her drink. She hears Fletcher sigh. Onstage, Jazz quintet begins to play Moonlight serenade. Then Fletcher scoots his bar stool back and stands. He then offers his hand to Holiday and gestures to the dance floor. For a moment, she stares in disbelief. Holiday can see that he's desperate, hungry. He wants redemption. She's seen that look in a thousand men's faces. Billy, I hate myself for what I did to you. I always will. I'd like to make it up to you. At that moment, Holiday knows that she's trapped. Clostrid phobic feeling wraps herself around her like a cold blanket. This cop. This chimy is demanding forgiveness and he won't let up. And he's a man who could have her arrested all over again. Holiday knows she has only one choice. So she takes his hand and the two step out onto the dance floor. Fletcher pulls her close and squeezes her tight. His breath is sour and hot. The two sway to the music and Holiday closes her eyes. Maybe with Jimmy Fletcher on her side, they'll let up and stop harassing her. Making him happy is her only option, she thinks. But she's not going to stop singing strange fruit. She won't stop protesting against the violence that's taken so many lives. She's not stopping anything. It's May 1947 in Washington, DC. Inside his office, Harry Anselinger sits across from a man named Lewis McKay. McKay is Billy Holiday's former pimp. And as Anselinger stares at him, he can't say he's surprised. McKay is a bulky man who squeezed into a loud maroon suit. He smells like he took a bath and cheap cologne and he sweats even while sitting still. Anselinger grimaces, releases a deep sigh and then continues running a plan by McKay. Normally Anselinger doesn't have to deal with low lights like this. But he needs McKay's help. After engineering holidays arrest, Jimmy Fletcher lacked the guts to follow through. He begged Anselinger to be lenient toward Holiday. So Anselinger immediately took him off the case and demoted him to the archives department. Anselinger shakes his head. Honestly, it's better than Fletcher deserves. So with Fletcher gone, Anselinger had to find another informant. Because despite the arrest, Billy Holiday still wouldn't give in. She wouldn't stop singing strange fruit and riling up black Americans. Luckily, it didn't take long to get to McKay, her former pimp, who promised to help put Billy Holiday behind bars for good. As they sit across from each other, Anselinger explains that Billy Holiday has gotten too high and mighty for her own good. She needs to be taught a lesson. McKay takes him a room pocket square from his jacket and wipes a beat of sweat from his thin mustache. He then nods his head, says he agrees. He had the same experience. McKay says that once Holiday began recording music, she started thinking she was better than him. But he made Holiday. It seems only fitting that now, he's gonna break her. Anselinger crosses his legs and leans back. He looks out the window, thinking about the plan. It has to be foolproof. He can't let Holiday slip away, not when she continues to disobey his order. Anselinger then turns back to McKay with a cold smirk. He says McKay should contact Holiday and act like he's turned over a new leaf. Maybe he should even apologize for treating her badly. He should then invite Holiday to his place, make sure there's more than enough drugs there to land her in court. That's when he should call Anselinger and his agents, they'll come put her in handcuffs. McKay dabs his mustache again with his pocket square and his eyes narrow. And for a moment Anselinger wonders whether he's about to say no. Cold fury begins to rise inside him. But then McKay leans forward and reaches out his meaty hand, Anselinger hesitates. Normally he wouldn't shake hands with a black man. But more than anything, Anselinger wants to take down Billie Holiday and this black man McKay can help. So the two shake hands and Anselinger smiles as he pictures Holiday going to jail for a very long time. Later that month, Billie Holiday sits on a stiff wooden chair inside a federal courthouse in Philadelphia. Her body's aching and no matter how hard she tries, she can't wake up from this nightmare. She looks over at the judge and with pleading eyes, she begs for mercy. But he only stares at her with a frigid, emotionless glare. Holiday feels a way of a nausea she looks around the courtroom. The dark wooden walls feel like they're closing in on her. She swears she can smell something rotten in the air. She grabs her face, she shuts her eyes. Holiday hasn't had a fix in days and her body feels like it's giving up on her. Just then the blonde district attorney stands and announces that Holiday has been charged with violations of the narcotics act. She has received, carried and facilitated the transportation and concealment of drugs. Holiday holds her head in disbelief. It's all a lie. Those drugs belong to her old boyfriend, Louis McKay. He'd called last week out of the blue saying he was sorry that he was a different man. He'd begged Holiday to take him back. She was feeling low after what happened with Fletcher. She badly wanted to believe McKay. So she went to his apartment. There he poured stiff drinks and handed her a joint. Then McKay got up to make a phone call. Ten minutes later, there were four police officers in the apartment. That's when Holiday realized that she had been set up. She'd been tricked and destroyed by a man once again. And now here she is. In another courtroom, in the middle of a terrible withdrawal, facing charges without even a lawyer on her side. Holiday grits her teeth and shuts her eyes. The judge leans down from the bench and asks Holiday for her plea. She nods her head and in a quiet voice she says guilty. She can only hope she'll get off easier if she cooperates. She then looks around the courtroom and adds that she would like to be sent to a hospital for treatment. She wants to get clean and stop using. She just needs a little help. The judge and the DA exchange look. Then the judge announces that he's made his decision. Billy Holiday will receive treatment in a hospital, but it will be a prison hospital. She is here by sentenced to imprisonment for one year and one day. The judge then brings down his gamble with a loud bang. Just like that, it's over. Holiday sees the bailiff approaching with handcuffs. She realizes it will be a very long time before she ever sings again. If you're into true crime, the Generation Y podcast is essential listening. We started this podcast over 10 years ago to dissect some of the craziest and most notable murders, crimes, and conspiracy theories together. We'd love for you to join us. Generation Y is one of the longest running true crime podcasts out there. We are still at it, unraveling a new case every week. We break down infamous cases like the Evil Genius Bank robbery, and lesser known cases like the case of Kimberly Rico. Did she actually kill her husband after they took part in a murder mystery game? We cover every angle, breaking down theories, diving deep into forensic evidence, and interviewing those close to the case. And with over 450 episodes, there's a little something for every true crime listener. Follow the Generation Y podcast on Amazon Music, or every listen to podcasts, or you can listen ad free by joining Wondry Plus in the Wondry app. It's January 1949, about a year and a half after Billy Holiday was sentenced to prison. Today, she's examining her reflection in a mirror. She smiles because she likes what she sees. She looks like her old self again, and there's a clarity in her large brown eyes. That's a reflection of the newfound clarity in her mind. For well over a year, Holiday has been clean and sober. Holiday turns away from the mirror, and gazes across her sweet at the Mark Twain Hotel in San Francisco. The bed is wide, and the carpeting feels soft underfoot. Holiday Grins. She almost can't believe she's standing here in a fancy hotel room, paid for with her own money. She emerged from jail, weak, and wrecked, and went straight back to the bottle. And as a convicted felon, she couldn't sing in New York clubs that served alcohol. Her career seemed like it was over. But that's when her friend suggested San Francisco. You didn't need a cabaret license to perform there. And so for months now, Holiday has been singing almost every night to sold out crowds. She's received standing ovation, especially when she closes with strange fruit. After her time in jail, the song means even more to her than it did before. Holiday sees that the world is slowly beginning to change, and she believes that strange fruit has played a part in that change, however small. Plus, there's nothing that the federal bureau of narcotics can do to stop her singing it, now that she's off drugs for good. Holiday plays out across her bed. When suddenly there's a pounding on her door. Holiday races an eyebrow and surprise, but heads over to greet whoever's there. Holiday pulls open the door, then gasps and steps back. An enormous, leering white man stands in the hallway. His ruddy cheeks bulge as he drinks. Behind him stands several uniform policemen with blank expressions. Holiday stammers and asks if she can help them. The giant man pulls a badge from his pocket and holds it an inch from her nose. He says that his name is Colonel George White and he's with the federal bureau of narcotics. He will now conduct a search of her hotel room. Holiday says she doesn't understand what this is all about. But White tells her to shut up. He calls her a junkie and says it's time for her to pay for her crimes. Holiday's heart starts a pound. Her arms grow weak. She says she hasn't touched a drug in over a year. She's completely clean. No one's going to find anything in this room. Agent White laughs and tells her that she's guilty and it's obvious. He points into her room and says he can see her hero and kid right now, right from where he's standing. It's sitting there on the nightstand. That's not all. He's also just spotted a small baggy of opium. He sees that she tried to hide it in the waist basket. Holiday's mouth goes dry. She knows there's nothing on the nightstand and nothing in the waist basket. She sees a grin emerging on White's face and she realizes what's happening. Before she can say a word, Agent White pulls a pair of handcuffs from his pocket. Holiday feels her entire body go numb with shock as the cuffs are slapped on her wrists. White shoves her into the hallway and tells her that Harry Anselinger sends his regards. That name echoes in Holiday's mind like the image of the neighbor who attacked her 24 long years ago. A bitter smile comes to Holiday's lips, though. She finally understands. It doesn't matter what she does from now on. Nothing matters. Anselinger will always find a way to get her and he will never, ever stop. More than 10 years later in July of 1959, Billy Holiday wakes up in a small, white room. The smell of disinfectant stings her nose. She swallows slowly her blurred vision sharpens and then she remembers where she is. She gazes around the room. She's on her sick bed in the public ward of Metropolitan Hospital in New York. She was brought here days ago after collapsing in her friend's house. Holiday sighs and turned over in bed. She's too tired to get up. Somehow too tired to fall asleep. She's tired of everything. For a year, she stood up for herself and for black people across America. She saw what that got her. She faced years of her assmen from law enforcement. They came after her with one drug charge after another. They wore her down and now today all she wants to do is close her eyes and they can all go away. But it won't go away and the knock on the door proves it. Holiday knows it could be a doctor or it could be a police officer. This point, it doesn't really matter. But when it opens, she sees that it's her friend, Maley Duffy, who's also a talented singer. Holiday smiles weekly as Duffy walks over. Billy? Billy, Billy. It doesn't matter if your pancake flat on a hospital bed, you still look beautiful. Those are sweet words but I don't believe them. I believe them or don't. I have something that without a doubt will lift your spirits. Duffy approaches Holiday's bed. She pulls a pair of comic books out of her purse. Sets them on a bedside stand. Your favorites. Now you really are too sweet. Holiday coughs and clutches her side. Billy, what happened? What's going on? I say it could be any number of things. My liver shot from booze, my heart, my lungs, both black from smoking, and then the ulcers in my legs from the junk I've been shooting. Oh, Billy. Holiday watches as Duffy pulls a handkerchief on her jacket pocket, dabs at the corners of her eyes. Holiday sits up. Don't cry for me. I did this to myself. I don't think so. I think they did this. They put you in jail for a year, a year. You get out and they never leave you alone. And then San Francisco, at least those bastards got caught for framing you. It doesn't matter if it was them or some other cops. They're going to keep coming after me so I decided to enjoy myself. I guess I enjoyed myself too much, huh? Look at me. Hey, hey, I'm going to help you. You're going to get better and you're going to get out of here. I promise. I think that should sail. I'll say that. You're sweet, but let's be honest here. If all the stuff wrong with my body doesn't kill me, then the feds will. You watch. They're going to arrest me in this damn hospital bed. Billy, don't give up. Not yet. We're going to make this right. Holiday smiles weekly again, then leans back and closes her eyes. As she falls asleep, suddenly she sees her father's face. She feels warm, relaxed. And for a moment, she wonders what he felt right before he died. Whether he understood that it wasn't pneumonia that killed him, but something else. Holiday hears a gentle melody, like a breeze on a spring day. Her body feels light, and she begins to drift off to sleep. But before she does, she's one final thought. She hopes she'll never wake up again. Later that week, Holiday's worst predictions came true when she was arrested in her hospital room. Narconics officers claimed to find heroin in a tin foil envelope mailed to the wall six feet from the base of Holiday's bed. It was an area she was incapable of reaching, given her lack of mobility at the time. But Holiday was indicted and handcuffed to her hospital bed and remained there until her death on July 17th 1959. Holiday was 44 years old and had just $750 to her name. When Harry Anselinger learned of Holiday's death, he reportedly rejoiced. Anselinger retired in 1962 after serving as the Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narconics for 32 years. In that time, Anselinger learned that well known white entertainers used heroin and other drugs. He refused to prosecute any of them. Billy Holiday is remembered as one of the greatest American jazz vocalists of all time. Her first performance of Strange Fruit in 1939 is cited by many as a milestone of the civil rights movement and a protest anthem that still resonates today. In 1999, Time Magazine called Strange Fruit the best song of the century. Next on American Scandal, a young minister named Martin Luther King Jr. spearheads the fight for racial equality. But King's cause is threatened by a powerful new enemy, J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the FBI. From Wondry, this is Episode 1 of The Feds versus the Activists for American Scandal. And a quick note about our reenactments. In most cases, we can't know exactly what was said, but all of our dramatizations are based on historical research. If you'd like to learn more about Billy Holiday's life and work, we recommend a book Chasing the Scream by Johann Harry. American Scandal has hosted edited and executed produced by me, Lindsey Graham for Airship, Audio Editing by Molly Bach, Sound Design by Derek Barrett's. This episode is written by Hannibal Diaz, edited by Christina Malsberg, produced by Gabe Ritten. Executive producers are Stephanie Jens, Jenny Lauer Beckman, and her nonlopest for Wondry.