August 6, 2019

How Watermelon’s Reputation Got Tangled In Racism

By Nneka M. Okona

The cover of the Aug. 9, 1937 issue of Life Magazine is all about watermelons. On it, several watermelons are wedged into various spots in the back of a pickup truck, packed in along for the ride.

A bald, middle-aged Black man with broad shoulders sits on the back of that truck, shirtless and outfitted in worn pants held up with suspenders. His name is Roy E. Parrish, hailing from Adel, Georgia, and as he sits on the back of the truck, he peers out into sprawling acres of farmland on either side of a winding dirt road.

It appears on the surface to be a glorious tribute to his hard work and harvesting, but it shrouds a much darker and destructive racist stereotype that has persisted even today—one linking African Americans to a cherished pastime of munching on watermelons during the warmer summer months.