The Washington Post

That familiar ice cream truck jingle has some pretty racist lyrics

It’s a familiar childhood tune.

It’s the signal there are King Cones, Drumsticks and Rainbow Pops nearby.

And its lyrics are very racist.

The song, which was released in March 1916 by the Columbia Graphophone Company — later Columbia Records — is titled, “N—– Love A Watermelon Ha! Ha! Ha!” It was written by actor Harry C. Browne and played on the depiction of African Americans as “mindless beasts of burden greedily devouring slices of watermelon,” according to NPR‘s Theodore Johnson.

He wrote: “As quickly as it began, the music paused, and this call-and-response ensued:

Browne: ‘You n—– quit throwin’ them bones and come down and get your ice cream!’

Black men (incredulously): ‘Ice Cream?!’

Browne: ‘Yes, ice cream! Colored man’s ice cream: watermelon!’

“My mouth dropped. The music immediately resumed and so did the racism. I soon realized that the ice cream truck song was forever ruined for me, especially once the chorus began:

‘N—– love a watermelon ha ha, ha ha!’

‘N—– love a watermelon ha ha, ha ha!’

‘For here, they’re made with a half a pound of co’l’

‘There’s nothing like a watermelon for a hungry coon’

Browne snagged the well-known tune to “Turkey in the Straw,” NPR reported. According to Johnson, it was one of several song originally written for the minstrel stage and performed by white singers in blackface, according to George Mason University. Although some might assume Browne’s song is merely imitating “Turkey in the Straw,” the tune reached the United States only after it was used in the minstrel shows, Johnson wrote.

“There is simply no divorcing the song from the dozens of decades it was almost exclusively used for coming up with new ways to ridicule, and profit from, black people,” he said.

Remember that when seeking Strawberry Shortcake or Toasted Almond this summer.

WARNING: This video contains offensive language.

Lindsey Bever is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post. Tweet her: @lindseybever
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