Apple trees are not native to America. They originated in Central Asia and were grown in Asia and Europe long before European colonists brought them to North America.
However, as explained in a post by the eminent word and phrase expert Barry Popik on his site, American-grown apples and American-style apple pies eventually became renowned for having a special sweetness and flavor.
That led to the term “American apple pie,” which was used to distinguish American-style apple pies from pies made in other countries.
By the 1920s, the phrase “as American as apple pie” was floating around. By the 1940s it had become a common idiomatic expression.
There’s no famous quotation or date to cite for the origin of “as American as apple pie.” The exact origin is unknown.
But there is a notorious variation that’s linked to the date July 27.
“Violence is as American as cherry pie.”
In a way, it was the origin. However, that seven-word aphorism is the shortened, popularized version of what Brown said in his speech.
What he actually said that day was:
“I say violence is necessary. Violence is a part of America’s culture. It is as American as cherry pie. Americans taught the black people to be violent. We will use that violence to rid ourselves of oppression if necessary. We will be free, by any means necessary.”
Ironically, at the time, Brown was Director of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
His fiery remarks at the July 27 press conference were, in part, a reaction to an announcement President Lyndon Johnson made that day.
Johnson announced that he was creating a special government commission formally titled “The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders.” It later came to be popularly known as The Kerner Commission, after its chair, Governor Otto Kerner of Illinois.
Johnson asked the 11-member Commission to determine the causes of the violent race riots that had swept through major American cities during the past few years, most recently in Newark and Detroit, and to recommend ways to stop such riots from happening in the future.
Brown decided to respond to this news by holding a press conference at SNCC’s Washington headquarters.
He scoffed at the idea that the causes of the riots were a mystery. “Rebellions are caused by conditions,” he said.
Then he made his famous comments about violence being necessary and as American as cherry pie and topped that off by adding: “If you give me a gun and tell me to shoot my enemy, I might just shoot Lady Bird.” (Referring to President Johnson’s wife, Claudia, whose popular nickname was “Lady Bird.”)
Brown went on to call President Johnson a “white honky cracker” and “a mad wild dog” and said that if America’s cities didn’t “come around” they “should be burned down.”
None of his comments that day gained the lasting notoriety of his cherry pie aphorism.
It’s not clear why he chose cherry pie instead of apple pie. But in his controversial 1969 autobiography Die Nigger Die!, Brown helped popularize his version of the saying by using it in the pithier form that’s often mistakenly attributed to his July 27, 1967 speech.
In the book, Brown wrote (using a lower case “a” for America, to show his disdain):
“This country was born on violence. Violence is as american as cherry pie. Black people have always been violent, but our violence has always been directed toward each other. If nonviolence is to be practiced, then it should be practiced in our community and end there. Violence is a necessary part of revolutionary struggle.”
As I write this, the President of the United States is a black man who is serving his second term in office.
H. Rap Brown (who changed his name to Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin while in prison for armed robbery in the 1970s) is now serving a life sentence in prison for murder.
He was convicted of killing African-American police officer Ricky Kinchen in 2000, during a shootout in Georgia that occurred when Kinchen tried to serve a warrant on him.
On July 19, 2013, President Barack Obama held a press conference at the White House to express his views on a Florida jury’s recent decision to acquit George Zimmerman of murder for shooting and killing the young black teenager Trayvon Martin.
The President acknowledged that race relations in America are better than they were when he was Trayvon’s age.
But he noted that racism in America clearly has not been eliminated.
More recent events in Ferguson, Missouri and elsewhere have seemed to give further credence to that view.
And, the continuing occurrence of gun-related homicides in the United states, affecting people of all races, seem to validate the view that violence is indeed still as American as cherry — or apple — pie.
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