Folk legend Woody Guthrie once rented an apartment from Fred Trump, Donald Trump’s father, in a “middle class” housing project that was backed by the Federal Housing Administration. While a tenant, Guthrie became troubled by the racism of his neighbors and the fact that black people were excluded from living in the project known as Beach Haven.
Trump embraced a racially coded guideline the FHA had, which encouraged landlords to avoid “inharmonious uses of housing.” Intended to discourage black people from renting apartments in “middle class” housing, the guideline was a part of the structural racism inherent in the FHA’s New Deal project.
Guthrie wrote lyrics for a protest song against “Old Man Trump,” and now Ryan Harvey, Ani DiFranco, and Tom Morello have taken the lyrics and recorded a version of the song, which was recently released by Firebrand Records.
Harvey sings, “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,” at “Beach Haven.”
DiFranco and Morello join Harvey for the chorus, which is a reworking of the Guthrie song, “Ain’t Got No Home.”
Beach Haven ain’t my home!
I just cain’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!
The driving rhythm of the song makes for an anthem of solidarity with oppressed people. It has this exultant feeling of joy in resisting Trump’s color line.
As a post at The Conversation details, the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department brought a case against Trump’s real estate empire in 1973 and 1978 for “racially discriminatory conduct.” For example, doormen were urged to “discourage blacks who came seeking apartments when the manager was out, either by claiming no vacancies or hiking up the rents.”
Guthrie envisioned a breakdown of the racial barrier at the project. He wanted to invite blacks to come live at Beach Haven and to love each other in any way they pleased and get pregnant and raise their kids just as white people did in the project.
Prior to December 1950 when he rented the apartment at Beach Haven, Guthrie recorded racially conscious songs, like “The Ferguson Brothers Killing” and “Buoy Bells From Trenton,” both songs which highlighted the racism of police and the criminal punishment system in the United States. He also wrote several songs inspired by the riots against blacks in Peekskill that occurred after black singer Paul Robeson held a concert in 1949. (Guthrie was present for the aftermath, and witnessed not only an angry mob against blacks but also anti-communist violence from the local chapters of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion.)
In a video put together for the release of “Old Man Trump,” Morello declares, “I’m standing up against Old Man Trump. Because when it comes to race relations, he’s like an old school segregationist. When it comes to foreign policy, he’s like an old school napalmist. When it comes to women’s issues, he’s like a frat house rapist.” He urges everyone who listens to the new song to oppose the history, which Trump represents.
While Guthrie’s lyrics have particular resonance because Donald Trump is running for president, the song is a marvelous protest song against the legacy of segregation in housing and the need to stand up to racist landlords like “Old Man Trump.”
Listen to “Old Man Trump”:
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