Thursday, June 14, 2007

Woody Guthrie's FBI File Revisited

In a July 15, 1946 letter, Woody Guthrie wrote the following:

“I have decided, long ago, that my songs and ballads would not get the hugs and kisses of the capitalistic `experts,’ simply because I believe that the real folk history of this country finds its center and its hub in the fight of the union members against the hired gun thugs of the big owners. It is for this reason I have never really, sincerely, expected nor dimly prayed, nor hoped for a single solitary minute for a penny’s worth of help from the hand of our landlord and ruler….
“To the big owners, an artist of any note or fame, that can be said to work or fight over on the union side, is classed by the big boys as a soldier, a technical, or an artistic captain or a general. The money paid to clip off working class artists may start at a measley Ten or Fifteen Thousand, and run up very quick to the sum of, A Hundred, Two Hundred Thousand, or a Half Million long greens. (This is no money at all to the big handlers that toss bales of money back and forth across their tables to the tune of a Million, a Billion, or more, Dollars)….
“It is not only a question of buying you and your art out of circulation, to keep you from stirring up your people against their blind owners; it is, lots of times a question of blocking your hand on every side, or causing you to get all lost and tangled up in a thousand traps of their psychological, emotional, economical, legal and illegal sorts of personal warfare. This will take the form of bribery, social disgrace, exposes’, running down your work, discouraging your talents, and insulting you on every turn.”
Coincidentally, among the 55 pages contained in Woody Guthrie’s de-classified FBI file (100-29988-5) is a July 15, 1943 Memorandum for E.A. Tamm, regarding “Department of Agriculture Nationwide Production `It’s Up To You’,” from D. M. Ladd of the FBI which states:

“I am attaching a program of the production `It’s Up To You,’ which was staged at the Department of Agriculture Auditorium in Washington, D.C. for a ten day period commencing on June 22, 1943. The production was attended by Special Agent [censored] and because of the tenor of the production Agent [censored] checked the Bureau file and ascertained that the following named individuals connected with the production of this show are either closely associated with the Communist Party or members thereof: Earl Robinson, Woody Guthrie…

“…In November, 1942 the Baltimore Field Office reported that through the medium of a confidential informant it was learned that a mass meeting was held at the negro Elk’s Hall in Baltimore, on which occasion the speakers were James Ford, an official of the Communist Party, USA, and Woody Guthrie. Guthrie is identified as having associated with one John R. Forrest, a song writer…Forrest is the subject of a Bureau file and is closely associated with Communist and Communist infiltrated groups in and around Los Angeles, California. Guthrie has been a resident of both New York City and Los Angeles.”
For more information about Woody Guthrie’s life and his historical impact on U.S. cultural life, you can check out the official Woody Guthrie website at

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