"The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice” (or “The darker the berry, the sweeter the juice") has been used by American blacks since at least the publication of Wallace Thurman’s novel, The Blacker the Berry: A novel of Negro life (1929), about the Harlem Renaissance. The phrase appears frequently in African-American literature from the 1930s to the 1970s.
In 1902, a poem about Dionysus stated: “The rougher the rind of life’s fruit, the sweeter the juice thereof expressed from the seeded pulp!” In 1923, it was observed that “the riper the fruit, the sweeter the eatin’.” Wallace Thurman took his “The Blacker the Berry” title from an existing saying.
January 1902, The Sewanee Review, pg. 77:
In glowing words of Dionysus carrying their own melody is summed up the service of sorrow in man’s development:
the rind of life’s fruit,
the sweeter the juice thereof
expressed from the seeded pulp!
Habit: and other short stories
By Darryl Francis Zanuck
Illustrated by E. A. Scram
Published by Times-Mirror Press
An’ there’s a sayin’ that says the riper the fruit, the sweeter the eatin’.
The blacker the berry: a novel of Negro life
By Wallace Thurman
Published by The Macaulay Company
She’s just as good as the rest, and you know what they say, “The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice.”
3 March 1929, New York (NY) Times, pg. X1:
UP “HARLEM” WAY
Negro Customs, Traits and Acting in a
Black-Belt Melodrama—An Idea Lost
In Shuffling Entertainment
By J. Brooks Atkinson
IN fact, “Lulu Belle,” which was the product of white dramatists and white actors in the principal roles, still remains for the Harlem negro a libel upon native life in that quarter. No doubt that the the sensational play Mr. Thurman had in mind in his recent novel entitled “The Blacker the Berry...” and no doubt the Arline who acted the most conspicuous part in it, and for whom the sable Emma Lou served as maid, was intended to be the vibrant Lenore Ulric.
By Nevil Shute
New York, NY: William Morrow & Company
“The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice, as you might say.”
28 July 1948, Modesto (CA) Bee, pg. 9, col. 2:
“THE BLACKER THE BERRY...THE SWEETER THE FRUIT,” goes an old saying.
20 May 1960, Appleton (WI) Post-Crescent, pg. B16, col. 1:
“The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice,” he quoted his grandmother.
31 May 1961, Emporia (KS) Gazette, pg. 4, col. 3:
“Black is honest,” they cry out, and “The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice.”
14 July 1963, New York (NY) Times, “Savannah Police bar White March” by Claude Sitton, pg. 46:
“The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice,” complained a marcher who clambered into the back of a pickup truck. “You’ve got to be black to walk.”
6 June 1964, New York (NY) Times, “Food: Good Season for Bing Cherries” by Craig Claiborne, pg. 12:
Bing cherries are the large, heart-shaped cherries that range in color from deep maroon to black. Generally speaking, the blacker the fruit the sweeter the taste.
The Darker the Berry ...: An Investigation of Skin Color Effects on Perceptions of Job Suitability
By Andreana H. Kennedy
Published by Rice University
The concise Oxford companion to African American literature
By William L. Andrews, Frances Smith Foster, Trudier Harris, Trudier Harris-Lopez, Oxford University Press
Published by Oxford University Press US
Blacker the Berry, The. Wallace Thurman’s first novel, The Blacker the Berry: A Novel of Negro Life (1929) takes its title from an old folk saying, “the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice.”