Most of us remember Woody Guthrie as the man who wrote “This Land Is Your Land,” but he was actually a political activist way ahead of his time. Woody wrote dozens of songs about racial inequality and police brutality before it was the thing to do.
What many people don’t know is that Guthrie leased a Brooklyn apartment from Donald Trump’s father, Fred in December of 1950. Over the course of the two years Guthrie leased the apartment, he came to know the slumlord mogul quite well, prompting even more inspired writings from the Oklahoma folk singer.
The Guthrie Archives in Tulsa, Oklahoma has displayed some of Guthrie’s most bitter writings about his not-so-great landlord, along with his other writings about the racial injustices of the time. Little did Guthrie know at the time, but Fred Trump’s son would grow up to exhibit the same racism that his father’s tenant had been speaking out against since Donald was a toddler.
Woody Guthrie wrote jams like “The Ferguson Brothers Killing,” a song about the murder of unarmed Black men by police in 1946. Charles and Alfonso Ferguson were murdered in Freeport, Long Island after they were refused service in a bus terminal.
In “Buoy Bells from Trenton,” Woody spoke on “The Trenton Six,” the case of the Black men framed by police and wrongly convicted of murder in 1948. The very next year, Guthrie would stand with Paul Robeson, Howard Fast, and Pete Seeger in a fight against mobs in Peekskill, New York; a town that had a serious history with racism, and became the inspiration of 21 of Guthrie’s songs.
Raw Story reports,
‘When Guthrie first signed his lease, it’s unlikely that he was aware of the murky background to the construction of his new home, the massive public complex that Trump had dubbed “Beach Haven.” Trump would be investigated by a U.S. Senate committee in 1954 for profiteering off of public contracts, not least by overestimating his Beach Haven building charges to the tune of US$3.7 million.’
After Guthrie, a veteran, had being in his residence for a year, he began to write about the obvious racism and bigotry he saw in his all-White neighborhood that he re-named “bitch haven.” To Guthrie, Fred Trump represented everything that was wrong with state of equality in America at that point in time:
Old Man Trump knows
Just how much
he stirred up
In the bloodpot of human hearts
When he drawed
That color line
Here at his
Eighteen hundred family project’
Guthrie was so sickened by the actions of Fred Trump that he re-made the song, “I Ain’t Got No Home.” The Dust Bowl song had been previously written, but was re-worked by Guthrie after living under Mr. Trump for just two years:
‘Beach Haven ain’t my home!
I just cain’t pay this rent!
My money’s down the drain!
And my soul is badly bent!
Beach Haven looks like heaven
Where no black ones come to roam!
No, no, no! Old Man Trump!
Old Beach Haven ain’t my home!’
In 1979, 12 years after Woody Guthrie had passed away, Wayne Barrett wrote an expose that focused on the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department’s cases against Fred Trump in 1973 and 1978. According to information found, the racially discriminatory conduct by agents of Fred Trump had caused the community to be a place of unequal opportunity. Barrett states:
‘According to court records, four superintendents or rental agents confirmed that applications sent to the central [Trump] office for acceptance or rejection were coded by race. Three doormen were told to discourage blacks who came seeking apartments when the manager was out, either by claiming no vacancies or hiking up the rents. A super said he was instructed to send black applicants to the central office but to accept white applications on site. Another rental agent said that Fred Trump had instructed him not to rent to blacks. Further, the agent said Trump wanted “to decrease the number of black tenants” already in the development “by encouraging them to locate housing elsewhere.”’
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