Just before Christmas 1950, a 38-year-old itinerant songwriter by the name of Woodrow Wilson Guthrie signed a lease on a modest apartment in Brooklyn. The other signature on the lease belonged to a real estate developer/landlord named Frederick Christ Trump. In addition to owning the massive public project known as Beach Haven, Fred C. Trump was father to a four-year old son named Donald. Woody had a three-year old son named Arlo. During their two-year tenancy, the Guthries got a good look at the blatant racial discrimination practiced by the elder Trump at his Beach Haven property, and Woody penned a bitter song in condemnation of Donald Trump’s racist father.
Woody Guthrie was not a man who took racial discrimination lightly. In 1949, the year before he signed the Beach Haven lease with Fred Trump, Woody stood stalwart with civil rights activist Paul Robeson, folksinger Pete Seeger, and American writer Howard Fast in defiance of a racist mob in Peekskill, New York. By the time Guthrie moved out of the lily-white south Brooklyn neighborhood he dubbed ‘Bitch Haven’ in personal diaries, Woody was fully onto the racist shenanigans of Donald Trump’s dad.
During his residency at Beach Haven, Guthrie kept copious notebooks in which he lamented the bigotry prevalent in mid-20th century America. In Guthrie’s eyes, Fred C. Trump personified the racist rental codes and other color-based discrimination he witnessed daily. In 1950, Woody reworked the lyrics to his Dust Bowl ballad, “Ain’t Got No Home” and rechristened the song as “Old Man Trump.”
Woody Guthrie pulled no punches while composing “Old Man Trump.” Described by The Conversation as pitting “America’s national balladeer against the racist foundations of the Trump real estate empire,” the lyrics eloquently and accurately depict the massive Beach Haven development project as “Trump’s Tower.”
The title and verse of “Old Man Trump” leave no doubt as to who — and what — the song is about.
“I suppose that Old Man Trump knows just how much racial hate
He stirred up in that blood pot of human hearts
When he drawed that color line
Here at his Beach Haven family project”
In the chorus of “Old Man Trump,” Woody Guthrie sang it like he saw it.
“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!”
Woody did not release”Old Man Trump” as a record during his lifetime. In fact, the handwritten lyrics went unnoticed in the Guthrie family archives for more than 60 years.
Timely revival of decades-old song
Prior to the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, riot-folksingers Ryan Harvey and Ani DiFranco, and guitarist Tom Morello collaborated to produce a contemporary cover of Guthrie’s scathing anti-Trump, anti-racism song. Harvey, who composed new music to accompany Guthrie’s lyrics, expressed the importance of “Old Man Trump” in an AlterNet interview.
“Woody Guthrie’s song was written between 1950 and 1952. When Trump supporters talk about ‘making America great again,’ I think it’s very clear they are talking about America after World War II and before the civil rights movement. It’s nostalgia for the white ’50s —an era that was racially exclusive.
Here’s Woody Guthrie, one of the standard bearers of history, coming out from the dead to say here’s that great America that you were talking about, one of racial injustice and economic injustice where Trump’s father is the antagonist.”
Released on Firebrand Records, “Old Man Trump” is copyrighted by Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc. (BMI) & Ryan Harvey (ASCAP).
FYI: Ike did not like Trump’s racist father, either
In 2015, Trump the campaigner often invoked the name of President Dwight David Eisenhower in an effort to bolster his promises of wall-building and mass deportation. Stumping the land from coast to coast, the Donald offered frequent servings of his ‘usual word salad,’ as his campaign speeches were described by The Daily Beast.
“Dwight Eisenhower. You don’t get nicer. You don’t get friendlier. People liked him. ‘I like Ike,’ right?”
The truth of the matter is, ‘Ike,’ as the 34th U.S. President was fondly nicknamed, did not like Fred Trump. In fact, when Ike got wind of the way Fred Trump and other real estate developers were manipulating the Federal Housing Administration system, he labeled the senior Trump and other FHA profiteers “sons of bitches” and called for a federal investigation in 1954.
Ike didn’t like him, but was Donald’s dad a racist?
The Trump family real estate dynasty started in the second decade of the 20th century, when 15-year-old Frederick Trump established a business partnership with his recently widowed mother, Elizabeth Christ Trump, and a few outside investors. In 1927, Fred and his mother incorporated as a real estate development company known as E. Trump & Son. During his lifetime, Fred Trump became one of the richest men in America. From 1930 until his death in 1999, the elder Trump amassed millions as a real estate developer and landlord in the boroughs of New York, and he did so by leveraging public programs, says the Washington Post.
Fred C. Trump did not devise the FHA guidelines that discriminated against blacks and other minorities in the 1950s. He did, however, embrace outrageous protocol, especially FHA restrictions against the ‘inharmonious use of housing’ built with FHA loans. According to Trump family biographer Gwenda Blair, mid-20th century America was rife with ‘restrictive covenants’ that betrayed the original intent of the FHA. In The Trumps: Three Generations of Builders and a President, Blair explains that ‘inharmonious use of housing’ was actually a thinly veiled code phrase that discouraged the selling of homes in white areas to blacks.
Eisenhower’s 1954 profiteering probe was not the only time the elder Trump was subjected to federal scrutiny. In 1973, Fred Trump and company were investigated by the United States Justice Department amid charges of civil rights abuses. Accused of violating the Fair Housing Act by lying to black would-be tenants, Fred Trump eventually agreed to a Department of Justice consent decree that mandated Trump-owned rental vacancies be listed with open housing advocates and minority publications, explains the Washington Post.
Was Fred C. Trump a racist with KKK connections?
Harvard-educated history professor, Joan E. Cashin believes he was. In a Huffington Post article published January 29, 2017, Professor Cashin offers compelling factual evidence that the elder Trump was indeed affiliated with the KKK on at least a peripheral level. The professor bases her assertion on public documents, including a contemporaneous 1927 New York Times story that names Fred Trump as one of several men arrested after a KKK skirmish in Queens on Memorial Day. In that article, Trump’s address is properly given as 175-24 Devonshire Road, Jamaica, New York City. The Times did not specifically identify Fred Trump as a racist or a Ku Klux Klan member but did note that the elder Trump was represented by the same attorney who represented known KKK members with whom he was arrested.
Professor Cashin noted that Fred C. Trump was released from custody two days after the KKK incident, and that she failed to find any public record explaining whether or not Trump was charged with any riot-related crime. Fact checkers at Snopes confirm the veracity of the 1927 Times article and back up Cashin’s claim that the newspaper did not explain whether or not Fred Trump was charged in connection with KKK activities.