The discovery that the iconic leftist folk singer Woody Guthrie rented from Donald Trump’s father – and wrote a poem denouncing Fred Trump as racist – gave Trump-haters a Freudian gift basket. But such intergenerational finger-pointing is dangerous. Guthrie wouldn’t have wanted fans blaming him for his own father’s racism.
There’s no point being a novelist in these stranger-than-fiction days. Just as Donald Trump’s unlikely but successful presidential campaign began, Will Kaufman, an academic researching Woody Guthrie’s life, found the lost lyrics. Guthrie, born in Okemah, Oklahoma in 1912, is associated with the Dust Bowl and the Oklahoma Panhandle not the Big Apple and the Coney Island Peninsula. Yet in the early 1950s, this troubadour of America’s troubled heartland lived in Brooklyn. Two of those years he lived in Beach Haven, seven 23-story brown brick apartment towers a Queens-based real estate mogul, Fred Trump, developed.
Guthrie was the idealistic folk singer, often pictured gazing off wistfully, with a suitably proletarian cap perched on his head, cradling his guitar with its sign: “THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS.” Trump, born in the Bronx to German immigrants seven years before Guthrie, was the cynical developer, often pictured looking fastidious, his trimmed mustache and three piece suit exuding wealth. Another photo shows Trump with his business partner and son, Donald, standing on an overpass in front of nearly a dozen brick towers. To some, those modest rental apartments represent the post-World War II American dream of affordable housing for all. Today, Trumpaphobes see the drab towers as soul-crushing and exploitative, while justifiably resenting the racism that we all now know blocked blacks from enjoying these waystations on the way to home ownership.