The near ubiquitous theme adopted by slow-rolling white vans serving cool treats across America, according to a brow-furrowing NPR dig, has roots in a very racist, early 1900s song called “Nigger Loves a Watermelon Ha! Ha! Ha!” So goes the chorus: [LISTEN]

Nigger love a watermelon ha ha, ha ha!

Nigger 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

Cut in 1916 on Columbia Records, actor Harry C. Browne borrowed the melody from a line of blackface minstrel tunes that all started with a Scottish-Irish immigrant narrative called “The Old Rose Tree,” that had nothing to do with blackface, of course, until it was co-opted by ambitious, bigoted white people and turned into “Zip Coon.”

Not only is Browne’s manipulation ridiculously crude AND unoriginally evil, but the most revealing bit of all this is how damn subversive a move it was, as at the time, the melody had already become a staple in ice-cream parlors. And not to put decades of blame on Browne, but consider the opening lyric call-and-response:

Browne: You niggers quit throwin’ them bones and come down and get your ice cream!

Black men: Ice Cream?

Browne: Yes, ice cream! Colored man’s ice cream: WATERMELON!

But ignorance is bliss, and what does ice cream know about color besides flavors, anyway?