Woody Guthrie’s Protest Songs Against Donald Trump’s Father Are Covered By Modern Artists 65 Years Later [Videos]
More than 60 years before Donald Trump was elected president, legendary folk singer/songwriter Woody Guthrie was writing song lyrics blasting his father, Fred Trump, as a racist landlord. Now those lyrics are getting new life in songs like “Old Man Trump,” covered by Ryan Harvey, Tom Morello, and Ani DiFranco, and “I Ain’t Got No Home,” covered by the Missin’ Cousins.
Woody Guthrie, a pillar of American protest music who was famous for songs like “This Land Is Your Land,” signed a lease in an apartment complex in Brooklyn back in 1960 and was soon writing bitter words about his landlord, Fred C. Trump, according to The New York Times.
The angry writings about “Old Man Trump” were uncovered by scholar Will Kaufman, a professor of American literature and culture at the University of Central Lancashire, who was working on a book about Guthrie. In them, Guthrie claimed that blacks were unwelcome as tenants in the Trump apartment complex near Coney Island and that Fred Trump stirred up racial hate and profited from it.
Guthrie’s lyrics named Fred Trump by name, calling him out for bigotry and discrimination in the apartment complex.
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 went on to rework his song “I Ain’t Got No Home” into an angry critique of Fred Trump, according to Mr. Kaufman, again calling out Fred Trump in the song.
Beach Haven ain’t my home!
I just can’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!
Kaufman wrote about Guthrie’s journal writings in a thorough piece on The Conversation, with “Woody Guthrie, ‘Old Man Trump’ and a real estate empire’s racist foundations.”
“For Guthrie, Fred Trump came to personify all the viciousness of the racist codes that continued to put decent housing – both public and private – out of reach for so many of his fellow citizens,” Kaufman said.
Indeed, years later the Justice Department would bring federal cases against Fred and Donald Trump for “racially discriminatory conduct” for practices such as charging higher rent to black families and instructing management to tell blacks that there were no vacancies. Trump Management settled the case, though they said the agreement did not constitute an admission of guilt.
The Village Voice wrote about the settlement back in 1979, as part of an in-depth story on financial shenanigans by Fred and Donald Trump. They reported that even after the settlement, the Justice Department complained that Fred Trump was in contempt of the consent decree and filed motions in federal court to compel his compliance. The new complaint charged that “racially discriminatory conduct by Trump agents has occurred with such frequency that it has created a substantial impediment to the full enjoyment of equal opportunity.”
Donald Trump defended his family’s real estate empire at the time, calling the suit “reverse discrimination” and saying it was part of a “nationwide drive to force owners of moderate and luxury apartments to rent to welfare recipients.”
Years later, retired building manager and former Trump employee Stanley Leibowitz told The New York Daily News of an instance in 1963, when a registered nurse named Maxine Brown “with impeccable credit” applied for an apartment at the Wilshire.
“I asked him, ‘What do you want me to do with this application?’ He said, ‘You know I don’t rent to n—–s. Put it in your desk drawer.’ Donald was alongside of him. He was maybe 16, 17 years old at the time. He was learning the business of his father. He was right at his side.”
Leibowitz said that Donald had “no reaction” to his father’s use of the racist slur.
Two sets of singers have covered Woody Guthrie’s anti-Trump songs recently with very different sounds but sharing Guthrie’s message.
The Missin’ Cousins, a County-Western music group from Oakland California, recorded “I Ain’t Got No Home/Old Man Trump” and uploaded a video in May of 2016, featuring historic footage of Woody and the times back then. The song has an old-time country music flavor.
Riot folk singer Ryan Harvey released another song compiled of Guthrie’s lyrics from way back then, with “Old Man Trump,” featuring Ani DiFranco and guitarist Tom Morello. Their track was released by Firebrand Records in July, just months after the lyrics were found and publicized, according to The Guardian.
“You’ve got Donald Trump talking about making America great again… and so here’s Woody Guthrie, one of the definers of American history, coming out after his death and saying ‘No, it wasn’t a great era and in fact your father was part of the problem,'” Harvey said.
The video for their version, which has a fast beat and more of an alternative rock flavor to it, shows a struggling black family in modern times, battling poverty and unfair housing practices, along with footage of the artists performing and montages of people holding up signs in support of equal rights.
Woody Guthrie died in 1967, fifty years before Fred Trump’s son would be sworn in as the president of the United States.
Now, with the release of these new versions of Guthrie’s songs so many decades after his death, his anti-Trump lyrics might just strike a chord with a new generation.
[Featured Image by Rick Diamond/Getty Images]