'Ain't Got No Home': Why Woody Guthrie Despised Donald Trump's Father

Jan 22, 2016
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Transcript

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

How many degrees of separation do you think there are between presidential candidate Donald Trump and folksinger Woody Guthrie? Well, we learned this week that it's a lot fewer than you might guess.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I AIN'T GOT NO HOME")

WOODY GUTHRIE: (Singing) I ain't got no home. I'm just roaming around. Just a wandering worker, I go from town to town. And the police...

SHAPIRO: This is Guthrie's song "Ain't Got No Home," and it's actually the key to this story. Back in December of 1950, Guthrie was living in New York. He'd signed a lease for an apartment in a big housing development in Brooklyn called Beach Haven. The landlord was a New York developer named Trump - not Donald, but his father, Fred.

WILL KAUFMAN: Guthrie at least knew Fred Trump because both their signatures are on the leases that Guthrie signed about every six months or so.

SHAPIRO: That's Will Kaufman. He's a professor of American literature and culture at the University of Central Lancashire. Recently, he was in Tulsa at the Woody Guthrie archives and stumbled upon the link.

KAUFMAN: And so I was leafing through his letters, and I was leafing through his notebooks, and I came upon entries in his notebooks which are really critical and scathing about Fred Trump and the color line.

SHAPIRO: Guthrie wrote that Fred Trump would not rent Beach Haven apartments to African-Americans. In fact, Fred Trump was sued several times over the years for alleged housing discrimination. According to Kaufman, Guthrie even reworked that tune, "Ain't Got No Home," into a protest song against the man he called old man Trump. As far as we know, it was never recorded, but Kaufman gave us his rendition.

KAUFMAN: I think I've got it to memory. He goes (singing) Beach Haven ain't my home. I just can't pay this rent. My money is down the drain, and my soul is badly bent. Beach Haven is like heaven where no black ones come to roam. No, no, no, old man Trump, Beach Haven ain't my home.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I AIN'T GOT NOT HOME")

GUTHRIE: (Singing) Now, as I look around, it's mighty plain to see. This world is such a great and funny place to be. Oh, the gambling man is rich, and the working man is poor. And I ain't got no home in this world any more. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.