A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Woody Guthrie saw Trump legacy in 1950

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Aug. 29, 30 or 31

Days ahead of Labor Day 2016, it’s revealing to remember that longtime labor supporter and legendary singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie crossed paths with the Trump clan, and he nothing good to say – or sing – about it.

Sixty-six years ago, the progressive Guthrie had to deal with Donald Trump’s father, real-estate baron Fred Trump, when Guthrie rented an apartment in the elder Trump’s Beach Haven complex near Coney Island, where African-Americans weren’t welcome, according to Will Kaufman, author of the book “Woody Guthrie, American Radical.”

Researching at the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa, Okla., Kaufman uncovered Guthrie’s lyrical rewrite of his own song about a homeless worker, “I Ain’t Got No Home.” It expressed Guthrie’s outrage at what the musician/activist saw as Trump’s bigotry:

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!

Guthrie died at age 55 of Huntington's Disease in 1967, and a few years later, the Nixon administration’s Justice Department sued the Trumps, accusing them of discriminating against African-Americans at Fred and Donald Trump’s housing developments in Queens and Brooklyn. An eventual settlement was reached – a decree the federal investigators called “one of the most far-reaching ever negotiated” – and Trump Management complied but didn’t admit guilt in violating the Fair Housing Act.

This January, Kaufman told the New York Times, “Woody was always championing those who didn’t have a voice, who didn’t have any money, who didn’t have any power.

“There’s no doubt that he would have had maximum contempt for Donald Trump – even without the issue of race,” he said.

Indeed, Guthrie’s perspective might be best expressed in his classic “This Land Is Your Land.” Written in 1940 as a people-oriented response to Irving Berlin’s jingoistic “God Bless America,” it’s still the inspiring anthem Robert F. Kennedy once suggested as an alternative to “The Star Spangled Banner.” Its complete lyrics, as recorded in 1944 and archived in the Smithsonian are:

This land is your land, this land is my land/ From the California to the New York Island,/ From the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf stream waters,/ This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking that ribbon of highway/ And saw above me that endless skyway,/ And saw below me the golden valley, I said:/ “This land was made for you and me.”

I roamed and rambled and followed my footsteps/ To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts,/ And all around me, a voice was sounding:/ “God blessed America for me.”/ This land was made for you and me.

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;/ Sign was painted, it said private property;/ But on the back side it didn't say nothing;/ This land was made for you and me.

When the sun come shining, then I was strolling/ In wheat fields waving and dust clouds rolling;/ The voice was chanting as the fog was lifting:/ “This land was made for you and me.”

One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple/ By the Relief Office I saw my people —/ As they stood hungry, I stood there wondering if/ This land was made for you and me.

Nobody living can ever stop me,/ As I go walking that freedom highway;/ Nobody living can ever make me turn back./ This land was made for you and me.

[PICTURED: Photo from the Woody Guthrie Center.]

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