Civil Rights Activism


Woody Guthrie: Something started happening to the town, and it happened so fast and so quick that all of that cowboy angle in my life sort of faded out. I mean, uh, the fact that the Indians and the poor Negroes had been given the state of Oklahoma by, sort of, United States treaties of all kinds because they didn’t figure that the land was good enough for anything else. But the very minute that everybody found out that there was millions and millions of dollars worth of oil pools under every acre of land, almost, in Oklahoma, why the Indians and the poor Negroes that bid on the land naturally had to be cheated out of it, and fast.

Steve Earle: Woody wrote songs about Harriet Tubman and Annie Mae Merriweather, the Black sharecropper activist who inspired his rousing labor anthem, “Union Maid.” Woody participated in the Harlem benefit concert for Isaac Woodard, a Black veteran viciously blinded by the police. He witnessed firsthand the Peekskill Riots against Paul Robeson and wrote a group of songs about them. After the war, when Woody and his family moved into the Beach Haven housing project in Brooklyn, he had some particularly harsh words for the racist policies of his landlord, one “Old Man Trump.” In this home tape, Woody addresses some of the injustices he witnessed at home.

Music: “I Don’t Like The Way This World’s A-Treating Me” demo song excerpt