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Friday, 12 August 2016 09:22

More than Six Decades Ago, Woody Guthrie Took On the Racist Real Estate Practices of Donald Trump’s Father

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BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Woody 0812wrp opt(Photo: Al Aumuller)In 1950, Woody Guthrie signed a lease for an apartment in a Brooklyn building owned by Fred Trump (the father of Donald Trump). Earlier this year, Will Kaufman, a Professor of American Literature and Culture, University of Central Lancashire, visited the Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Woody Guthrie Archives (http://woodyguthriecenter.org/archives/), to do research.

Kaufman pointed out that “Guthrie’s two-year tenancy in one of Fred Trump’s buildings and his relationship with the real estate mogul of New York’s outer boroughs produced some of Guthrie’s most bitter writings.” Kaufman maintained that Guthrie’s writing -- which haven’t yet been published – “should be, for they clearly pit America’s national balladeer against the racist foundations of the Trump real estate empire.” Particularly in light of Donald Trump declaring last year that his “legacy has its roots in my father’s legacy.”

Guthrie had dealt with racism and inequality in several songs, recognizing that racism wasn’t only manifested in the South. According to Kaufman, “songs such as ‘The Ferguson Brothers Killing,’ … condemned the out-of-hand police killing of the unarmed Charles and Alfonso Ferguson in Freeport, Long Island, in 1946, after the two young black men had been refused service in a bus terminal cafe.”

The song “Buoy Bells from Trenton,” “denounced the miscarriage of justice in the case of the so-called ‘Trenton Six’ – black men convicted of murder in 1948 by an all-white jury in a trial marred by official perjury and manufactured evidence.”

Guthrie, a strong and active supporter of the great Paul Robeson – an underappreciated African American icon -- “stood shoulder to shoulder with Robeson, Howard Fast and Pete Seeger against the mobs of Peekskill, New York, where American racism at its ugliest had inspired 21 songs from his pen (one of which, ‘My Thirty Thousand,’ was recorded by Billy Bragg and Wilco).”

Kaufman reported that “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.’”

A few years later, “Trump would be investigatedby a U.S. Senate committee … for profiteering off of public contracts, not least by overestimating his Beach Haven building charges to the tune of US$3.7 million.”

Apparently, Trump “embrace[d] … the FHA’s guidelines for avoiding ‘inharmonious uses of housing’ – or as Trump biographer Gwenda Blair puts it, ‘a code phrase for selling homes in white areas to blacks.’ As Blair points out, such ‘restrictive covenants’ were common among FHA projects – a betrayal, if ever there was one, of the New Deal vision that had given birth to the agency.”

Guthrie may have been one of the first to write about Fred Trump’s bent toward racism. However, in 1979, twelve years after Guthrie’s untimely death from Huntington’s disease, the Village Voice’s Wayne Barrett published a two-part exposé about Fred and Donald Trump’s real estate empire.

More recently, a chapter titled “The Making of Donald Trump,” in David Cay Johnston’s new book titled The Making of Donald Trump (Melville House, 2016), provides some of the seamy and unsavory details that underscored the building of the Trump real estate empire under Fred Trump. Johnston also notes that Fred Trump got “arrested at age twenty-one for his involvement in a battle between about a hundred New York City police officers and a thousand Ku Klux Klan members and supporters, many of them in white robes.”

According to Johnston, “Donald Trump has “tried to deny the whole thing.”

Johnston: “Fred Trump was known neither for quality buildings nor being a good landlord. He bought the cheapest materials to build more than 27,000 subsidized apartments and row houses, on many of which his family continues to collect rent decades later.”

Below are Guthrie’s lyrics to “Old Man Trump”:

I suppose that Old Man Trump knows just how much racial hate

He stirred up in that bloodpot of human hearts

When he drawed that color line

Here at his Beach Haven family project

Beach Haven ain't my home!

No, I just can't pay this rent!

My money's down the drain,

And my soul is badly bent!

Beach Haven is Trump’s Tower

Where no black folks come to roam,

No, no, Old Man Trump!

Old Beach Haven ain't my home!

I'm calling out my welcome to you and your man both

Welcoming you here to Beach Haven

To love in any way you please and to have some kind of a decent place

To have your kids raised up in.

Beach Haven ain't my home!

No, I just can't pay this rent!

My money's down the drain,

And my soul is badly bent!

Beach Haven is Trump’s Tower

Where no black folks come to roam,

No, no, Old Man Trump!

Old Beach Haven ain't my home!

Although Guthrie never recorded “Old Man Trump,” Ryan Harvey, Ani DiFranco, and Tom Morello have.