In an apple/tree tale of bizarre juxtapositions, recently discovered papers show that Woody Guthrie rented a Brooklyn apartment in December 1950 from one Fred Trump, a racist, sketchy, vindictive low-income housing profiteer who later taught everything he knew to his appalling son Donald. The apartment was in a federally subsidized, post-war development that Trump called Beach Haven. Following then-current FHA guidelines for avoiding “inharmonious uses of housing” – aka integration - it became a lily-white housing haven, thus betraying the equitable New Deal vision that gave rise to it and offering a telling glimpse into the racist foundations of the Trump real estate empire.
Old Man Trump made a fortune from Beach Haven and other public housing projects, often in questionable ways. A purported KKK member, Trump was eventually investigated for profiteering from public contracts in a host of enterprising ways, from pocketing evidently fictional "architects' fees" to borrowing more in federally subsidized funds than he needed to turn a more-than-tidy profit. Later, he raised his unfortunate son to be what he is today: He taught him, "Be a killer," told him, "You are a king," and set him up with what Trump has called "a small loan of a million dollars." Donald himself likes to boast - without irony, which is evidently beyond him - “My legacy has its roots in my father’s legacy.”
Soon into his two year residency at Beach Haven - which he quickly dubbed Bitch Havens - Guthrie began to notice his all-white environs, decry the bigoted racial codes that lay behind them, and call out Old Man Trump for his ill-gotten profits. A veteran and fervent believer in equal opportunity - hence, the notion that This Land Is Our Land - who'd stood with Paul Robeson and other civil rights activists, Guthrie eventually reworked his signature Dust Bowl ballad "I Ain't Got No Home" into a bitter broadside dubbed "Old Beach Haven Ain't My Home."
"I suppose/Old Man Trump knows/Just how much/Racial Hate/he stirred up/In the bloodpot of human hearts/When he drawed/That color line," he wrote, describing his own "badly bent" soul to be living there. "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!" Man, just imagine what he would have made of the ignoble offspring. So many are so missed.
Woody and Leadbelly in 1949. Photo from Chicago History Museum/Getty