One of former president Donald Trump’s last-minute executive actions was an expansion of his National Garden of American Heroes, which the real-estate mogul proposed as an outdoor statue gallery featuring historically significant Americans.
The idea was first announced in the summer of 2020 as a 31-statue tribute slated to feature everyone from Susan B. Anthony, John Adams, Davy Crockett, Fredrick Douglass, Amelia Earhart and Billy Graham, to Jackie Robinson, Booker T. Washington, Antonin Scalia and the Wright Brothers, among others.
Trump’s idea was his response to last summer’s widespread racial justice protests decrying police brutality against Black and Brown Americans, when statues commemorating Confederate and Civil War figures were toppled. “The chronicles of our history show that America is a land of heroes. … The gates of a beautiful new garden will soon open to the public where the legends of America’s past will be remembered,” Trump said in his Jan. 18 order, which continued his signature stoking of racial division with a purported appeal to America-first patriotism.
“Across this Nation belief in the greatness and goodness of America has come under attack in recent months,” it added. “And years by a dangerous anti-American extremism that seeks to dismantle our country’s history, institutions, and very identity … When the forces of anti-Americanism have sought to burn, tear down, and destroy, patriots have built, rebuilt, and lifted up. That is our history.”
In his final hours, the twice-impeached president added another 213 names to the list of his unlikely memorial, including an odd mix of actors, athletes, politicians and historical figures such as Dr. Seuss, Muhammad Ali, Lauren Bacall, Irving Berlin, Kobe Bryant, Johnny Cash, Johnny Appleseed, Julia Child, Christopher Columbus and Albert Einstein. A number of other musicians made the cut as well, including Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, Whitney Houston, Frank Sinatra, Elvis and iconic folk singer Woody Guthrie.
The last is perhaps the most confounding and unlikely inclusion on the run-down of a project that Trump didn’t make any headway on during his single term — including failing to secure Congressional funding — and which NPR said is very unlikely to happen now that President Joe Biden has moved into the White House.
Guthrie’s inclusion is particularly bizarre since the musician famously attacked the notion of what became one of Trump’s signature, divisive call-to-arms, “America First,” in his 1944 song “Mister Charlie Lindbergh” The track features the lines “Hitler wrote to Lindy, said ‘Do your very worst’/ Lindy started an outfit that he called America First/ In Washington, Washington,” a stinging rebuke of aviator-turned-anti-WWII-interventionist Lindbergh’s 1941 anti-Semitic speech rejecting America’s entry into the global conflict. (Trump was repeatedly accused of appealing to white supremacist followers during his term, and a number of his adherents wore Nazi and anti-Semitic symbols while violently storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.)
But more importantly, as noted by Guthrie’s daughter Nora, her dad was not at all a fan of the Trump family. In a statement released on Jan. 19, she said, “I’ll let Woody speak for himself. He left Trump’s Beach Haven apartment then, in 1951, and would not want to live in any Trump property – or GARDEN – now.” She then noted that Woody wrote a song entitled “Old Man Trump” in 1951 that served as a scathing rebuke to the owner of the complex owned by the elder Trump that Guthrie lived in for two years.
“I suppose that Old Man Trump knows just how much racial hate/ He stirred up in that bloodpot of human hearts/ When he drawed that color line/ Here at his Beach Haven family project,” Guthrie sings. It is in an apparent reference to the accusation lodged in the 1970s by the Civil Right Division of the U.S. Justice Department that accused Fred Trump of “substantial impediment to the full enjoyment and equal opportunity” at the complex, accusing him of not wanting to rent to Black people.
“Beach Haven ain’t my home!/ No, I just can’t pay this rent!/ My money’s down the drain/ And my soul is badly bent!/ Beach Haven is Trump’s Tower/ Where no Black folks come to roam/ No, no, Old Man Trump!/ Old Beach Haven ain’t my home!”
Watch a video for Ryan Harvey’s cover of the song from 2016 below.