Thursday, June 21, 2007

Woody Guthrie's Post-1950's FBI File

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

“It is not just a question of you, as an artist, selling out, and becoming harmless to the owning side. No, you are never actually bought nor bribed till they have decided that they can use you in one way or another to rob, to deceive, to blind, confuse, to misrepresent, or just to harass, worry, bedevil, and becloud the path of the militant worker on his long hard fight from slavery to freedom. Your art helps to preserve, to prolong, to keep alive, and to glorify the essences and the principles of the owning, ruling side. If your art did not add new life to their side, kid not yourself, they would certainly never shake your hand and drop their bloody money down into your lap. And it is the highest form of your owner’s joy when he buys you out from the union side (where you) have spent several years of your life getting people to follow, to hear, or to stand for a while and listen to what you have to say, or to live their lives in spirit and in action in the way that you lived your own. This makes you worth lots more to your owner…

“This is the bad part of a capitalist system, this dog eat dog, this spying, tracing, tracking and trailing after one another always under the covers of night and the shades and shadows of day…This is the system which the owners would like to prolong, to keep alive, to prolong as long as they possibly can, because in the wild blindness of it all, they get all of us to fighting against one another, and rob us coming in the fields of production, and going, in the realm of distribution. This is the system I would like to see die out. It killed several members of my family, it gassed several and shell shocked several more in the last world war, and in this world war just past, it scattered lots more. It drove families of my relatives and friends by the hundreds of thousands to wander more homeless than dogs and to live less welcome than hogs, sheep, or cattle. This is the system I started out to expose by every conceivable way that I could think of with songs and with ballads, and even with poems, stories, newspaper articles, even by humor, by fun, by nonsense, ridicule and by any other way that I could lay hold on.”

Coincidentally, among the pages contained in Woody Guthrie’s declassified post-1950s FBI file (100-29988-5,6,7,8) is a June 2, 1950 memorandum sent to the FBI Director by the FBI’s Los Angeles office on the subject “Woodrow Wilson Guthrie, Woody Guthrie, Security Matter,” which states:

“Re: El Paso letter to New York dated 2-15-50 in captioned matter, report of Special Agent [censored] dated 4-30-50 at Los Angeles entitled `Factionalists Sabotage Group,’ Internal Security-C:
“On April 18, 1950 CNDI [censored] identified a photograph of GUTHRIE as being the individual to whom he had previously referred to as (WOODY), and who was a member of the Factionalist Sabotage Group. According to CNDI [censored] GUTHRIE from approximately April 15, 1950 to May 15, 1950 resided at the home of [censored] Los Angeles, California, and an individual who has also been identified as a member of the above group.
“On May 15, 1950 CNDI [censored] ascertained that GUTHRIE left Los Angeles on that date and on May 18, 1950 CNDI [censored] was advised by [censored] that GUTHRIE was in El Paso, Texas where he would contact his children and former wife. Reference telbu reflects that GUTHRIE’s children resided at 4002 Bliss Street, El Paso, Texas.
“For the information of the El Paso office CNDIS [censored] have furnished this office since [censored] with information concerning a group of approximately thirty men and women, some veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and expelled Communist Party members who are regularly meeting in Los Angeles. According to [censored] this group has a headquarters in Mexico City, Mexico, and one of the group [censored], known to your office, left Los Angeles in December 1949 to work in this headquarters; her residence has been verified in Cuernevaca, Mexico.
“The [censored] of this group, [censored] has advised CNDI [censored] that the ultimate purpose of this group is sabotage against the United States during war with Russia and has outlined to him group policy in recruitment, method of operation, publications, finances, and has advised the informant that his group has a direct contact with the `Comintern.’
“By letter dated May 15, 1950 in the referenced matter the Bureau requested that individual investigations be opened concerning members of this group and security index cards be considered.
“El Paso is requested to verify the residence of the subject in El Paso through [censored], El Paso County Court House, El Paso, Texas, it being noted that [censored] has previously furnished your office with information regarding GUTHRIE.

“Upon receipt of this verification, Los Angeles will submit a RUC report covering GUTHRIE’s activities known to this office.”

And a July 21, 1950 memorandum to the FBI Director from the FBI’s Los Angeles office on the same subject states:

“Rebutel dated July 14, 1950, entitled `FACTIONALIST SABOTAGE GROUP, INTERNAL SECURITY C ‘Bufile 100-369268’…

“CNDI [censored] on July 4, 1950, advised he had ascertained from [censored], also a member of the referenced group, that the subject was presently residing at 3520 Mermaid Avenue, Brooklyn 24, New York.

“A pending report setting out leads to verify the subject’s residence in New York is presently being transcribed and will be forwarded to the New York and El Paso Offices at an early date.”

Also included in Woody Guthrie’s declassified post-1950’s FBI file is an August 3, 1950 document summarizing the articles that appeared in the left-wing Daily People’s World in 1948 and 1949 that either mentioned Woody or were written by Woody; and which states that “T-1 advised that he specifically recalls Guthrie having attended” six political meetings between March 26, 1950 and May 6, 1950 that were held at 932 or 932 ½ North Lucile Ave. in Los Angeles. Yet this August 3, 1950 admits that “[censored] Guthrie [censored] advised that he personally has never, [censored] made any statement relative to sabotage…”

For more information about Woody Guthrie’s life and work, you can check out the official Woody Guthrie site at .

Next: Grit TV Host and Blue Grit Author Laura Flanders: A 1991 Downtown Interview—Part 1