Donald Trump was a racist landlord who was sued by the U.S. Justice Department for not renting to African Americans. After he didn’t change his racist rental policies, the Dept. of Justice sued him again.
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED:
Fred Trump created a rental company, ran it for decades, and by 1973 it managed 14,382 apartments. By then, 17 African Americans had filed 15 complaints of discrimination in the application process. Also, four “testers” were sent to five Trump properties. They found that four rental employees discriminated. So in 1973, the Department of Justice filed a complaint against Fred Trump, Trump Management, and its new president, young Donald. At properties operated by them, almost 4.5% of tenants were black. One building had 40% black tenants. But five buildings had none. By 1974, the DOJ had collected accusations (formal, informal, and hearsay) by 43 accusers (named and unnamed) against 38 employees (out of hundreds) of Trump Management in 20 properties (out of 39), during 14 years. Three of them blamed Fred Trump. None of the 43 accusers blamed Donald Trump; there’s no evidence that he created or carried out discriminatory policies. In 1975, the Trumps began policies of affirmative action renting, to reach 10% black occupancy. By 1977, they exceeded this requirement. Finally, the DOJ closed the case for “lack of evidence” or new complaints.
July 23, 2016. The New York Times published an op-ed titled: “Is Donald Trump a Racist?” As if the title were not enough, the writer Nicholas Kristof began by asking: “Has the party of Lincoln just nominated a racist to be president?”
In order to portray Trump as a racist, Kristof did two things. First, he did not mention any evidence at all of Trump’s friendships and positive relations with African Americans and other minorities. Second, Kristof collected and twisted multiple tidbits of apparent evidence to suggest that indeed Trump is a racist.
Kristof started: “One early red flag” was that in 1973 the Justice Department “sued Trump and his father, Fred Trump, for systematically discriminating against blacks in housing rentals.” But this sentence is misleading because it names Donald first, as if he were the primary target of the lawsuit. To the contrary, the many lawsuit documents actually list the Defendants as “Fred C. Trump, Donald Trump and Trump Management, Inc.” and also as “Fred C. Trump, et al.”
It’s not clear to me when exactly Fred Trump named his son as the new president of his real estate company. Some accounts say 1973. The useful but often unreliable Wikipedia says that it was in 1971. Newspaper reports from 1973 refer to Donald Trump as President of Trump Management. This newspaper article from early 1973 seems to say that Donald was company president since 1970. However, a detailed company document answering an “Interrogatory” of the District Court specifies that Fred C. Trump “is President” and Donald Trump “is Vice-President.” (p.66 here) Still, in the legal proceedings some court documents do correctly refer to Donald as president, such as this one.
By 1973 Fred Trump had named Donald president of Trump Management while Fred remained as chairman of the board and sole stockholder. It was still Fred’s business. He built it and shaped it. Fred started building houses when he was 19-years-old, in 1924. He soon began a company with participation and funding from his mother. Thus Fred spent 50 years building and shaping his company and business practices by the time he promoted his son to the top management position. Court documents all show that Fred Trump was the primary target of the lawsuit.
Thus in October 1973, the Housing Section of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice sued (filed a complaint against) Fred’s company for violating Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, known as the Fair Housing Act. Contrary to this act, the government claimed that the defendants engaged in racial discrimination in their rental practices.
Hence, in 2016 Nicholas Kristof said that he “waded through 1,021 pages of documents” of the lawsuit— “and they are devastating.” Kristof added that the U.S. government amassed “overwhelming evidence” that the Trump company discriminated against blacks. Kristof explains that blacks were sent to Trump apartment buildings but were turned away as if none were available. Then whites were sent and were shown vacant apartments. This is true; at least it happened multiple times.
However, Kristof does not mention, in this regard, the initial remarks of the defense lawyers. Which apartment buildings? When? What building managers? Which applicants? How many times? Thus the defense lawyers complained that the initial accusations involved no facts (e.g., here, here, here, and here).
Fred and Donald both signed affidavits denying any intentional discrimination. In his sworn statement, Donald Trump said that he was “shocked” to hear about the government’s lawsuit, but that “I have never nor has anyone in my organization ever, to the best of my knowledge, discriminated or shown bias in the renting of our apartments.” He also said that he had always tried to provide “equal opportunity for anyone to rent apartments.”
Donald claimed that the government’s lawsuit was “unwarranted and unfounded,” and asked to be informed about the facts on which the accusations were based. He noted that some tenants sent him letters “expressing their shock and disbelief that our organization should be charged with such outrageous lies.”
Then Trump raised a significant point: “The fact is that our apartments have the same ratio of minority tenants that as exists in the community as a whole. Our organization has never discriminated and does not now discriminate.” For any one building in one location, it would have been significant to assess what was the ratio of African Americans to whites in that building, compared to the ratio of African Americans to whites in that general location of the city. Still, one would also have to consider the particular property rental prices and local demographic changes. Yet the lawsuit did not involve this. Instead it was about whether new applicants, who were minorities, were obstructed from renting.
One problem is that the Trump Management company owned or operated 14,382 rental apartments in 39 building complexes. That’s a heck of a lot. For Kristof to blame Donald Trump, he would have to somehow prove that some incidents of discrimination had been caused by him, not just by Fred Trump, or by particular employees, building superintendents, managers, rental agents, etc.
In fact, the U.S. government’s lawsuit did not seek to blame Donald Trump in particular but to show that some agents of Trump Management had systematically discriminated or carried out discriminatory policies. Just by proving the latter the government could hold Trump Management responsible according to the Fair Housing Act of 1968. The legal documents show no evidence or accusation that such policies were devised, implemented, or advocated by Donald Trump. But three accusers did blame Fred Trump by name.
The case of Trump Management gained prominence when Donald Trump became a candidate for President of the U.S. I have not found any numerical summary of the facts of the case, that is, an accounting of the evidence.
I was especially perplexed that writers don’t say how many African Americans lived in Trump properties and how many prospective renters filed complaints of discrimination. Without such information, it’s easy to imagine (wrongly) that all or nearly all African Americans were excluded from those buildings or that many of them filed complaints.
For example, in 1979 and 2015 articles in The Village Voice thoroughly documented various accusations against Trump Management. But the writers, Wayne Barrett and Jon Campbell, gave no evidence of how many blacks actually lived in properties owned or managed by Trump Management.
In 2015, a meticulous article in the Daily Beast detailed the sordid accusations against Trump Management. But the writer, Gideon Resnick, did not mention how many blacks lived in such properties in 1973 or thereafter, nor how such numbers compared to local statistics.
So I’ve prepared an accounting of the evidence. Here it is. With it, I can now see why writers mischaracterized this civil lawsuit: they didn’t put individual events into the greater context.
From around 1960 until 1974, the U.S. Department of Justice counted 20 individuals who filed complaints after they applied to rent apartments from Trump Management but were denied tenancy— allegedly because of racial bias. (I suspect that most of these acts of discrimination did occur. I also think that multiple other minorities also applied to these buildings but were not admitted.)
19 black individuals filed 16 formal complaints. They were: Harriette Bolling in 1960, Maxine Brown in 1963, Mae Brown in 1964, Ronald & Agnes Bunn in 1970, Mrs. & Mr. Joseph Jones in 1971, Henrietta Davis (two incidents), Beverly Best and Alfred Hoyt in 1972, Annette Gandy and Richard Foard in 1973, and Mrs. & Mr. Ricky Helms in 1974. Five others were not located: James Chestnut, Charles Hall, Mrs. Carl Nickelson, Lorraine Haynes, and Robert Harris. (In 2016 the New York Times interviewed Mae Brown, who now has the last name Wiggins.)
Among the 19 individuals who filed the 16 formal complaints, at least 7 were granted tenancy at Trump properties after they filed their complaints (and long before the Department of Justice intervened): Harriette Bolling, Mae Brown, Mr. & Mrs. Bunn, Beverly Best, Annette Gandy, and Alfred Hoyt.
These alleged and real acts of discrimination happened at the following 9 properties managed by Trump Management in New York City: Shorehaven Apartments, Wilshire Hall, Kendall Hall, Oakdale Apts., Beach Haven Apts., Fontainebleau Apts., Highlander Hall, Westminster Apts., and Ocean Air Apts.
Considering that in 1974, Trump Management operated at least 37 residential rental complexes with nearly 14,400 apartments, presumably housing around 30,000 people at any one moment, it’s not extraordinary that just 19 minorities had filed 16 formal complaints of discrimination in 14 years. Generally speaking, most people who experienced discrimination would not file a complaint.
Trump Management claimed to have 2,500 to 3,000 vacancies per year (p.129 here). If we use the lower figure, then they had 2,500 times 14 equals 35,000 vacancies in 14 years. If we roughly assume that they received just 3 rental applications per vacancy, then they processed roughly 105,000 rental applications in 14 years.
Thus, the 19 individuals who filed complaints would constitute less than 0.02% of the rental applications in those 14 years. That is, two complaints of discrimination for every 10,000 applications. This seems rather few for such large numbers of applications.
However, there were other problems too.
When asked, a building superintendent of Westminster Apartments, Peter Connan, honestly remarked that in 1972 the residents there were virtually all white. Another building superintendent, Guido Lara, reported that at Ocean Terrace Apartments only 1% of residents were blacks. Another superintendent, Vikentije Besu, reported that there were no blacks at Lincoln Shore Apartments.
Still, there were certainly some African Americans in some buildings operated by Trump Management. For example, superintendent Walter Rohr reported that Patio Gardens #1 had a population of 40% black residents.
Also, by January 1973, Fred Trump owned 20% of Starrett City, a new housing development in Brooklyn, consisting of 5,868 units, designed to have a racially integrated population: including 30% blacks and Hispanics. In 1974, the New York Times noted: “There has been some fear that Starrett City will house more black and Hispanic families than the mostly white Canarsie area would like.” Trump Management owned a fifth of this immense housing development. When the complex opened in 1974, nearly no white people applied. (p.66 here)
There’s no official tally of how many African Americans lived in Trump properties by 1973. Still, in December the New York Times reported that Donald “Trump estimated that 700 apartments were rented to blacks.” But maybe he exaggerated. An official accounting exists from July 1, 1975, which puts the exact number at 641 apartments. If Trump exaggerated in late 1973, then apparently the New York Times exaggerated too, because in the same article it reported the number of rental units at Trump buildings at 16,000, whereas official records from the time put the figure at 14,382. So, if we assume that roughly 640 apartments were occupied by African Americans, then it seems that 640/14,382 = 4.5% of tenants were black. Certainly not a high number, but it does represent between 1,000 and 2,000 African Americans living in buildings operated by Trump Management.
According to the U.S. Census, in 1970 blacks or Negros constituted 11% of the population in the country. In New York State 11.9% of the population self-identified as black. But in New York City itself the numbers were higher. Needless to say, African Americans were not dispersed equally in all regions. Some areas of New York City had very few blacks, while other areas had more. Similarly, a few Trump buildings had a significant percentage of black tenants, but many more of the Trump buildings had very few.
The Trump properties were mostly in Brooklyn and Queens. In 1970, the population in Brooklyn included 25% blacks. The population in Queens included 13% blacks. By themselves, these numbers seem to suggest significant discrimination in the Trump properties.
However, some historical context is needed. In New York City, the African American population in 1970 was much higher than in 1960. There had been an enormous influx of African Americans into Brooklyn and Queens during the 1960s.
In 1960, there were 371,405 blacks in Brooklyn, a number that subsequently grew to 656,194 in just ten years. That is, it grew by 77%. Thus 14% of the population in Brooklyn were blacks in 1960, followed just ten years later by 25% blacks in Brooklyn in 1970. Likewise, in Queens the African American population grew from 145,855 in 1960 to 258,855 in 1970. Thus from 8% blacks in 1960, it grew to 13% blacks in Queens in 1970.
In the context of such abrupt and major demographic changes, the properties managed by Trump Management did not quickly reflect corresponding proportional changes. Moreover, in 1968, the Fair Housing Act was created, putting pressure on rental companies to end any discrimination and carry out affirmative action policies. In 1973, the Trump company had not bothered to comply yet.
But it was worse than that. The case against Trump Management gained strength partly because some of its employees reported discrimination.
Was such discrimination caused by employees’ own racist prejudices, or was it mandated by a company policy?
Kalman Biczo, a superintendent at Lawrence Gardens in 1971, claimed that another superintendent “Frank” said that if you rent to blacks you run into trouble. Rental agents Harry and Theresa Schefflin reported discrimination at Briar Wyck Apartments in 1973. Thomas Miranda was a building superintendent at Kendall Hall, where he too claimed to see discrimination policies, and was expected to apply them, including labeling applications from “colored” persons. Peter Connan worked as superintendent at the Westminster Apartments and he reported discrimination there, even by his father who previously had the same job. Next, Donald Herman was a former rental agent at 3901 Nostrand in 1973. Herman said that the superintendent “Frank Finnegan, gave him the impression, through words and statements, that he should not rent to blacks.” Herman too recalled that “a code was used” to identify applications submitted by black persons. Similarly, a superintendent at Highlander Hall, Carlos Zeller, said that in 1973 he “attached a coded piece of paper” to applications to notify the central office that the applicant was black. Ruth Sarver briefly worked as assistant to Mr. Zeller and she confirmed the practice of using a racial code. Three doormen too confirmed some practices of discrimination. For example, in 1970 and 1971, Jack Folger was a doorman at Ocean Terrace Apartments. He later claimed that the superintendent, Guido Lara, had instructed him that if black persons asked about rentals, whenever Lara was away, then Folger should discourage them by exaggerating the rental prices, whereas white inquirers should be told “to return at a time when Lara would be present.” (p.175 here)
Interestingly, three ex-employees blamed Fred Trump for discrimination.
In 1973, rental agents Harry and Theresa Schefflin, at Briar Wyck, claimed that Fred Trump himself discouraged rental to blacks. The other accuser was a former rental agent at Tysens Park, namely James Gordon White. In 1973, White claimed that Fred Trump had instructed him not to rent to black persons. White also alleged that Fred Trump “told him that he wished to decrease the number of black tenants already residing at Tysens Park by encouraging current black tenants to locate housing elsewhere.”
James White also said that a code was placed on rental applications; for example, a rental clerk called Frances put a racial code on an application from a black couple before forwarding it to the central office. (p.179 here)
Also in 1973, Allan Gross worked as a rental agent at Tysens Park Apartments. He reported that at least twice he heard Irving Eskenazi, a senior manager, “instruct rental agents at the Tysens buildings to discourage black applicants from renting apartments.” And, “Gross also stated that a code was used within the office to designate which applicants were black or otherwise ‘undesireable.’” (p.179 here)
Next, some white renters, at least five, voiced concerns of racial discrimination: Mr. & Mrs. Harold Zimmerman in 1970, Sheila Hoyt in 1972, and Kenneth & Ruth Laitman in 1973. For example, in August 1973, Kenneth and Ruth Laitman wrote to “Mr. Trump” to complain that an apartment manager at 3901 Nostrand Ave., Margueritte Marrazzo, had prevented them from transferring their lease to a “Mr. Thomas (who is Negro).” The Laitmans added that one neighbor had “complained to Miss Marrazzo that if the apartment were rented to a Negro he would break her lease and encourage others in the building to do likewise.” The Laitmans then claimed: “I believe Miss Marrazzo refused to rent the apt. to Mr. Thomas because he is Negro. Racial prejudice should not be tolerated in your organization. We believe that Miss Marrazzo is acting in an unconscionable and prejudicial manner.” (p.173 here)
From 1972 to 1973, the New York Human Rights Commission and the Urban League of New York sent four “testers” to five properties operated by Trump Management. Muriel Salzman, Monique Golden, Muriel Silberberg, and Phyllis Spiro went to Trump properties to pretend that they were seeking to rent apartments. They found that two superintendents and two rental agents behaved in discriminatory ways: not offering an apartment to a black person while soon later showing more receptivity to a white applicant.
In July 1974, the New York Urban League provided a pair of black and white “testers” to visit buildings owned or operated by Trump Management. In July 1974, Stephanie Bush, a black tester, visited 11 Trump buildings and asked to rent an apartment. The rental agents or superintendents often told her that no units were available. Then promptly after she left each building, Susan Bernstein, a white tester visited the each building to ask the same question. Usually, this white woman was offered an apartment. The black woman was quoted some higher rent prices than the white woman. In 7 out of 11 trials, no apartment was offered to the black woman, whereas the white woman was told that an apartment was available or would soon be available. In the other 4 trials, the agents’ replies were similar or identical; there was no obvious discrimination.
Summing up, the following employees of Trump Management were specified or named (by renters, employees, and testers), as having carried out acts of discrimination or given instructions thereof, between 1960 and 1974:
13 rental agents: Irving Liebowitz (1974), Paul Ziselman (1973), Ray LiMani (1973), Simon Wiss (1973), Harry [Schefflin] (1973), Frances at Tysens (1973), Louis Sarnell (twice in 1972), Mr. Levy (1972), Mr. Connan Sr. (1971), Abraham Rosenberg (twice in 1972), Mrs. Spitrey (1970), a rental agent at Wilshire Apts. (1963), and a rental agent at Shorehaven (1960).
16 superintendents: Henry Neher (1974), Al Weber (1974), Kurt Marscheider (1974), W. Volz (1974), Mr. Pajumae (1974), a superintendent at Wilshire Hall (1974), another superintendent at Highlander Hall (1974), and a woman superintendent at Clyde Hall (1974), Thomas Miranda (1973), Carlos Zeller (three times in 1973), Frank Finnegan (1973), Skender Fici (1972), Rene Canon (1972), Guido Lara (1971), Frank at Lawrence Towers (1971), Mr. Spitrey (1970).
1 doorman: an unnamed doorman at Edgerton Hall (1974), while three others said that they were asked to discriminate, without saying whether indeed they did: Adolpho Gomez (twice in 1973), Eduardo Galdamos (1973), and Jack Folger (1970-71).
3 managers: Margueritte Marrazzo (1973), senior manager Irving Eskenazi (1973), and Mrs. Morgan (1971).
5 central office staff and supervisors:, [Pauline] Williams (1973), office manager Sophie Friedwald (twice in 1973); controller Stuart Hyman (1973), office manager Minerva Gilbert (twice in 1972-1973), and owner Fred Trump (twice in 1973).
Summing up, 38 employees of Trump Management were blamed as having carried out actions of racial discrimination. At the time, the company also had hundreds of other employees.
Note that Donald J. Trump was not specifically named by any of the accusers as having carried out acts of discrimination or as having proposed or pushed any discriminatory policies.
Since Donald Trump was not accused of discrimination by any applicants, tenants, testers, former employees, or coworkers, why did the Department of Justice include him as a named defendant in their lawsuit?
Because as president of Trump Management, he could legally be held responsible for the actions of his employees. And moreover, it was then his responsibility to correct any incidents or patterns of discrimination. Besides, once the investigators established that discrimination had indeed happened, an important issue was also whether such discrimination was a policy that had been established by the heads of the company.
The acts of discrimination happened at 20 rental properties operated by Trump Management: Beach Haven, Belcrest Hall, Briar Wyck, Clyde Hall, Edgerton Hall, The Essex, The Fontainebleu, Highlander, Kendall Hall, Lawrence Towers, Lawrence Gardens, 3901 Nostrand Ave., Oakdale, Ocean Air, Ocean Terrace, Saxony Hall, Shorehaven, Sussex Hall, Tysens Park, Westminster, and Winston. (I wrote 20 instead of 21, because one of these should not be counted because Trump Management “did not own the part of the complex involved in one of the incidents.” (p.3 here)
The testers from the Urban League also visited at least 4 Trump buildings where they did not personally encounter racism: Coronet Hall, The Essex, Wexford Hall, and Wilshire Hall. However, they did speak with two unnamed employees, at the Essex and Wilshire, who allegedly said that there was discrimination in those two properties.
Finally, under Trump Management in 1960-1974, there were 19 properties with no complaints of discrimination (at least in the Justice Department’s account): Argyle Hall, Chelsea Hall, Fogeston Hall, Falcon Apts., Fiesta Apts., Green Park Essex, Green Park Sussex, Grymes Hill Apts., Lincoln Shore Apts., Nautilus, Park Briar, Park Towers, Patio Gardens, Ocean Isle Apts., Southhampton, Sunnyside Towers, Trump Village, Wedgwood Hall, and Wexford Hall.
The Department of Justice did not present the various allegations and evidence of discrimination all at once. By February 28, 1974, the plaintiffs had presented evidence of discrimination in only 7 buildings among the 37 properties operated by Trump Management. Still, for months the Department of Justice continued to collect the evidence that I’ve summarized above. This led the defense lawyer, Roy Cohn, to complain that the plaintiffs had enacted a prolonged process of gathering and creating accusations instead of having sufficient evidence when the lawsuit was filed, in October 1973.
In a deposition in March of 1974, Donald Trump said that he was “unfamiliar” with the Fair Housing Act of 1968. He admitted that Trump Management had made no changes since the law was implemented. He said that he did not even know the racial composition of his tenants or employees.
In October 1974, the District courthouse in Brooklyn held evidentiary hearings in front of Justice Edward Neaher. The main focus of discussion were claims by witnesses that diverged from previous claims they reportedly had made to attorneys of the Housing Section of the Department of Justice.
In this hearing, the defense attorney asked Donna Goldstein, one of the attorneys of the Department of Justice to confirm whether the charges of discrimination against Trump Management consisted of just “about twelve incidents of discrimination.” Defense attorney Roy Cohn specified that he meant items “1 through 12 citing specific instances under your Honor’s direction of what they claim to be acts as of discrimination over a fourteen year period in the Trump office.” Cohn insisted that “they were twelve over a fourteen-year period in some fourteen thousand apartment units.” Then Goldstein admitted that “I understood one of the instances to be part of an apartment complex that they no longer owned.” (p.20 here)
Note that right then their count of 11 specific incidents of discrimination was far lower than what I have summarized above: roughly 50 distinct accusations against 38 employees of Trump Management in 20 (out of 39) properties, during 14 years.
The defense attorney claimed that since the original 12 claims of discrimination had eroded, since they even involved “buildings which the Trumps didn’t even own,” then the prosecution had unfairly proceeded to collect more evidence by using “undercover agents” (testers), intimidating witnesses, and improper tactics.
Now, let’s go back to Nicholas Kristof at the New York Times in 2016. He described a major issue in the case: that a “former building superintendent working for the Trumps explained that he was told to code any application by a black person with the letter C, for colored, apparently so the office would know to reject it.” This is clearly an awful and condemnable practice. Note that the last three words are the worst part of the allegation. Otherwise, many institutions even nowadays do still request that applicants self-identify their race: including schools, universities, and even the National Science Foundation. (I’m very uncomfortable with present-day classifications by race).
Kristof did not mention, however, that these offensive instructions were not issued by Fred or Donald Trump, but allegedly by a Mr. Hyman, a Mrs. Williams, and Sophie Friedland who were employees of Trump Management, Inc.
Also, Kristof did not mention that this same superintendent later denied these very claims in a signed affidavit and also when he testified in front of the Federal Judge.
Similarly, another 2016 article in the New York Times likewise referred to Thomas Miranda, the superintendent who said that Trump Management employees instructed him to attach the letter “C” for “colored” on applications submitted by black apartment seekers.
However, these 2016 articles in the New York Times do not mention Miranda’s subsequent deposition. But here it is: pp. 80-96. Thomas Miranda was a Puerto Rican who was hired by Trump Management to work as a building superintendent. He worked for them for two years. Apparently, when the attorney from the Department of Justice first met with Miranda and demanded information, Miranda said that Trump Management used discriminatory practices and that he feared retribution from the Trumps.
The prosecutors regarded Thomas Miranda as “an important witness in this litigation.” Yet here (p. 95) is what Miranda testified in front of Judge Edward Neaher of the Justice Department, when interrogated about racial markings in rental applications in October 1974:
Prosecutor: “And isn’t it a fact, Mr. Miranda, that you told Miss [Elyse] Goldweber [an attorney for the Justice Dept.] that racial markings were placed on pieces of paper attached to [rental] applications?”
Prosecutor: “You didn’t tell her that?”
Prosecutor: “Did you tell that to Miss Goldstein?” [another attorney of the Justice Dept.]
Prosecutor: “Did you ever tell anybody or tell any of the Justice Department people that — about an incident of possible discrimination with any black family?
In his New York Times op-ed, Kristof reported none of this. Other recent writers don’t report it either, in order to present one-sided critiques of Donald Trump.
Next, Kristof wrote that “A Trump rental agent said the Trumps wanted to rent only to ‘Jews and executives,’ and discouraged renting to blacks.
This claim too is misleading for several reasons. First, it was not one rental agent that made this complaint. It was a married couple: Mr. and Mrs. Harry Schefflin. They worked at the Briar Wyck Apartments in Queens in the fall of 1973. The building had been purchased by Trump Management “during the late summer of 1973, and was [already] substantially [racially] integrated at the time.” According to government lawyers, “The Schefflins advised that Mr. Fred Trump and other agents, including Mr. Wiss, wanted them to rent only to ‘Jews and Executives,’ and discouraged rental to blacks. They advised that a racial code was in effect, blacks being referred to as ‘No. 9.’ It appears that Mr. Schefflin was discharged by the defendants after working for them for a few months.” (p.40 here)
A fair way to summarize this information is to write: a married couple who were briefly employed but soon fired by Trump Management, claimed that Fred Trump and some agents wanted to rent only to ‘Jews and executives,’ and discouraged renting to blacks. But instead of writing this, Kristof chose to insinuate that Donald Trump himself was named in this accusation by saying that “the Trumps wanted to rent only to ‘Jews and executives,’ and discouraged renting to blacks.” Thus, an allegation that was specifically about Fred Trump and some rental agents becomes misrepresented as being also about his son.
Kristof also gives no hint that apparently there is evidence that Harry Schefflin himself discriminated against renting to blacks. Adolpho Gomez was a doorman at the Briar Wyck Apartments where Schefflin worked as a rental agent. Gomez stated that “there were at least two occasions when he [Gomez] informed black prospects that apartments were available. According to Gomez, these applicants proceeded to an office to speak to a rental agent identified as Harry (last name unknown). Gomez stated that a few minutes later these applicants left the rental office and indicated that they had been told that there were no vacant apartments.”
Harry Schefflin was fired from Briar Wyck Apartments. He gave the brief statement against Trump Management. Yet he did not provide any additional information or testify in any hearing, but apparently moved away: “last known address 33-24 Parsons Blvd., Whitestone, New York.”
There seems to be no extant record of just how many black persons lived at the Briar Wyck apartments back in late 1973. However, an official tally prepared on July 1, 1975 shows that out of 201 apartments, 25 were occupied by blacks. Thus, in this one property 12.4% of the residents were black, under Trump Management. The figure grew to 15.4% black tenants by May 1st, 1977, still under Trump Management.
Aside from the Schefflins’ statement, is there other evidence that apparently Trump Management preferred Jews as renters?
Yes. There’s another example in the case documents. Donald Herman was a former rental agent for Trump Management in 1973. He stated that: “at the beginning of his employment he asked Ms. [Margueritte] Marrazzo [Resident Manager] whether or not Trump Management rented to blacks. According to Mr. Herman, Ms. Marrazzo responded that some blacks do live in Trump buildings but that Trump Management believes that Jewish tenants are the best tenants.
This does not show that Trump Management viewed all tenants equally. However, at least it suggests that the company was not anti-Semitic.
Now, consider what superintendent Thomas Miranda actually testified (p.95) about this issue:
Prosecutor: “Did you ever tell anybody that you had been told that the management preferred Jews?
Prosecutor: “Did you tell them that they wanted to keep your place white?”
Thomas Miranda testified that he was approached by Donna Goldstein, of the Justice Department, who wanted him to provide evidence that there had been discrimination in the rental application process. But from the start, Miranda had repeatedly said that “I don’t want to be involved in this.” He testified that Goldstein did not tell him that he was not obligated to answer her questions. The defense attorney asked whether Goldstein “was satisfied with your answers?” Thomas Miranda replied: “In the beginning she was not satisfied with my answer…” And worse, from the start of the interview (p.81), “she threatened me with the question of higher authority or jail.”
Miranda explained that when Goldstein referred to a “higher authority” she meant the FBI, the police, and somebody in the Department of Justice. And he further explained in front of the federal judge: “You see, I’m a minority. I have been harassed many, many, many times in this city. And I need protection,” so he was “annoyed” and “scared” when Goldstein threatened to confront him with a higher authority. He said that she was “tough,” “a little rude,” and “threatening.” Moreover, the defense lawyer asked Miranda about Goldstein (p.82):
Defense: “Did she press you to say that there had been discrimination at the Trump buildings?”
Miranda: “Well, precisely that — discrimination Trump building, yes.”
Defense: “What did you tell her?”
Defense: “After you had told her there was not, did she keep pushing on it?”
In a signed affidavit, Thomas Miranda had also stated that if he did not cooperate with Goldstein “and in effect ‘lie’” in order to help her in her ambitions and winning her case, ‘I will be thrown into jail.’”
Accordingly, in a deposition, defendant Fred Trump said this about Miranda’s original accusations, about managers flagging applications of prospective black tenants: “That is such a lie, and by our friend, Mr. Miranda, who has been lying to us since we hired him…”
In his sworn affidavit (Exhibit 2), Miranda said that he “never discriminated” while we worked at Trump management, and had never been instructed to discriminate. He claimed to have “no great liking for Trump Management,” but that he did not want to lie for Goldstein and would no longer tolerate the persecution.
Now of course, op-ed writer Nicholas Kristof is free to have his opinion. He’s even free to imagine that the only reason why Miranda changed his story is because he was coerced by Donald Trump, who forced him to lie. However, to be fair to the readers of the New York Times, Kristof at least should have duly noted that: this superintendent later testified to a Federal Judge that his accusations against Trump Management were false because he had been bullied into lying by an attorney of the Justice Department.
Thomas Miranda was not the only witness to raise “serious allegations” against attorney Goldstein. Similar allegations of being pressured under threat of jail were rendered by Carol Falcone, another former employee of Trump Management. She had been a clerk there for three and a half years.
In a handwritten, sworn affidavit (Exhibit 1), Falcone said: “Ms. Goldstein embarrassed and accused me of lying and withholding information and then threatened that I would be held for perjury and thrown into jail.” She also accused Goldstein of extortion and slander. Sometime later, in a deposition, Falcone toned down her accusations, to say that Goldstein’s repeated threat of jail was just insinuated.
Similarly, Paul Ziselman was another former employee, a rental agent, of Trump Management who provided a signed affidavit that “I have never been instructed by any superior of the Trump Office, nor was it ever suggested or stated to me in any way, manner or form to follow a racially discriminatory rental policy while I was employed by this company. In fact, during such employment I rented many apartments to minorities, including blacks.” (Exhibit 3)
Ziselman too formally complained that Goldstein had carried out her investigation in an unethical manner, because Goldstein “harassed and intimidated” him, especially by her “threatening” allusions to the FBI.
Similarly, Ziselman’s wife too, Paula, was once employed (part-time) as a rental agent by Trump Management. She too provided a signed affidavit declaring that “under no circumstances did I ever discriminate, nor was I ever told to discriminate by any superior of Trump Management against any person regardless of race, color or creed desiring the rental of an apartment.” (Exhibit 4)
Allegedly Goldstein had used the FBI to persuade or intimidate the prospective witnesses against Trump Management. Carol Falcone’s experiences were the most egregious. Goldstein herself admitted that she (or her coworker attorney Goldberg) asked the FBI to contact Falcone, before Goldstein herself reached out to her. (pp.41-42)
Hence FBI agents went to Falcone’s house one night after 9pm, looking for her. She wasn’t there so they talked with her mother. On another occasion, FBI agents went to Falcone’s house again at 10:30 pm. They talked with her uncle. Then the FBI came back later that night, and talked with her uncle again. On a different day, two men showed up at Carol Falcone’s workplace, a sandwich store, looking for her, and spoke with her husband. Finally, on a later day, attorney Goldstein showed up at the store, with no advance notice, and met with Carol Falcone (a.k.a. Balistreri). In her sworn affidavit Carol complained that Goldstein “in fact made me feel I was a criminal being held on a criminal charge,” because “they came looking for me at such odd hours.” She felt harassed by the FBI and by Goldstein. Falcone complained that Goldstein said that the punishment for perjury was 1 to 5 years in prison.
Goldstein later denied these accusations overall, but admitted that she told Falcone that she had asked the FBI to interview her. Goldstein said that she would now tell the FBI to not visit her, but asked her not be “frightened” if the FBI showed up anyway. (p.56)
Summing up, four former employees who Goldstein had persistently solicited to testify against Trump Management decided instead that they would testify against Goldstein, and they denied all discrimination charges. In turn, Goldstein denied most of the multiple accusations against her. Yet she admitted that Thomas Miranda was reluctant to be involved, that Mr. Ziselman refused a request for a second interview saying “that he considered it to be harassment,” and that she did tell him and Carol Falcone that she had asked the FBI to contact them.
Let’s return to Kristof’s column in the New York Times. Kristof wrote that: Donald Trump furiously fought the civil rights suit in the courts and the media…” This is true, but does not even hint at the fact that Donald Trump repeatedly denied any discrimination against minorities.
Next, Kristof finished the sentence above: “but the Trumps eventually settled on terms that were widely regarded as a victory for the government.” Kristof’s use of the word “settle” might sound as if the Trumps had to pay some sort of a monetary settlement. It sure sounded like that to me when I read Kristof’s column. But when I inspected the original legal documents, I found that there was no monetary settlement at all, and that the Trumps were not even required to pay any part of the opposing attorneys’ expenses.
Next, Kristof wrote: “Three years later, the government sued the Trumps again, for continuing to discriminate.”
This is sounds terrible—but really, it’s a grossly mistaken, inept, or stunningly dishonest claim.
First, it’s false that the U.S. government sued the Trumps again for continuing to discriminate. Actually the government could not sue and would not sue Trump Management again for discriminating because the case had been “dismissed with prejudice.” In legal terms, this means that the case was dismissed permanently: any case dismissed with prejudice is finished, once and for all, and can never be brought back to court.
Thus the official document of the District Court (p. 2) ruled that it was “ORDERED, ADJUDGED and DECREED” in June 1975 that “the complaint against Fred C. Trump and Donald J. Trump is dismissed against them in their personal capacity, with prejudice, as to all allegations contained therein, and predating this Order.”
Kristof was confused because he naively misinterpreted a motion as a lawsuit.
What happened was that in 1977, Fred Trump duly provided statistics on racial occupancy to the Housing Section of the Department of Justice. Since 1975, Trump Management had improved its percentage of African American tenants from 6.6% to 10%, in accord with the expectations set by the Consent Decree.
Back in July 1975, Trump Management operated rentals in 37 properties under review, including 6 properties that were occupied by 10% or more blacks, plus one that had 46.4% blacks. Each of the other 30 properties had less than 10% blacks.
But now, by May 1, 1977, out of 37 properties, 11 properties had 10% or more black occupancy, including one that had 58.5% blacks.
Thus, in 1977, the sites managed by Trump Management that had the highest populations of persons of African descent were the following eleven properties:
- 58.5% blacks at Patio Gardens
- 25% blacks at Westminster Hall
- 24.8% blacks at Balcrest Hall
- 23.2% blacks at Sussex Hall
- 18.8% blacks at Argyle Hall
- 17.7% blacks at Green Park Sussex
- 17.3% blacks at Clyde Hall
- 16.1% blacks at Kendall Hall
- 15.4% blacks at Briar Wyck
- 14.9% blacks at Kendall Hall
- 12.7% blacks at Tysens Park Apts.
Note also that Trump Management owned part of Starrett City, which housed approximately 23% blacks. The other 26 rental properties each housed less than 10% blacks, including two properties that still had none.
In turn, a U.S. Attorney from the Eastern District of New York reviewed the data. It was also reviewed by the Chief and two attorneys of the Housing and Credit Section of the Department of Justice. The Chief, Frank Schwelb, had prosecuted the original case against Trump Management, and now he prepared a report stating: the number of blacks occupying apartments at Trump buildings had grown to 10.45%. While this figure looked “promising,” Schwelb’s attorneys quipped that sixteen Trump buildings (out of 37) still only had 5% or less black occupancy. And, 54% of all black residents lived in only 9 apartment complexes, out of 37. Thus, several buildings still had “not increased much” in black occupancy.
Consequently, in 1977 Mr. Schwelb prepared a “Motion for Supplemental Relief” (p.9 here), “alleging unsatisfactory compliance” of Trump Management, and requesting to extend the original Consent Order requiring Trump Management to submit regular reports on black occupancy.
Nothing came from this Motion. I’ve noticed that the information presented in the Motion includes several mistakes. For example, it conflates the number of apartment units occupied by blacks with the number of black tenants. It says that “the number of blacks occupying apartments at Trump buildings had grown to 1013.” That was incorrect. The number 1,013 was the number of apartments occupied by blacks. Likewise the statement: “this is an increase of 372 black persons” is also incorrect. Thus the Motion misrepresented (underestimated) the number of black persons living in Trump buildings.
In May 1978, Trump’s lawyer opined to the New York Times that “The Trumps performed so perfectly under a two year-consent decree, which expired last June, that the Government made no move to extend it.” He said that the subsequent motions were “a rehash of complaints by a couple of planted malcontents.”
In April 1982, the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice closed the case against Trump Management. The record (p.28 here) states that the case was settled by Consent Decree in 1975, and that the “subsequent attempt to obtain supplemental relief in this case several years ago died a slow death because of lack of evidence.” Lack of evidence. The Civil Rights Division noted that the affirmative terms of the original decree had expired long ago. And finally: “We have received no discrimination complaints against Trump for many years.”
In a 2015 article in the Daily Beast, writer Gideon Resnick wrote that after the Trumps did their Consent Decree, “It is unclear if the Trump organization’s practices were significantly altered.” With this false and incendiary sentence, Resnick chose to ignore the fact that Trump Management did reach and exceed the required 10% overall occupancy of black tenants. It also omits the fact that the Civil Rights Division closed the case against them. Resnick notes that the Department of Justice filed the motion for supplemental relief, but he does not mention that the motion was denied because of “lack of evidence” or complaints.
In 2016, the forgotten, failed Motion was misrepresented by Kristof, in the New York Times, as a government lawsuit. Wow.
After having smeared the young Donald Trump as a racist landlord, Kristof meekly wrote that “in fairness” the discriminatory policies “were probably put in place” by his father Fred Trump. He noted that Fred had once been arrested at “a Ku Klux Klan rally” (it was actually a Memorial Day parade) back in 1927, without noting that the 21-year-old Fred was arrested during a fight that broke out at the event and that Fred was not charged with anything (unlike others who were arrested too).
Kristof then said that Donald “inherited his firm’s discriminatory policies,” and “he allied himself decisively in the 1970s housing battle against the civil rights movement.”
Again, this is a grotesquely inaccurate claim. To the contrary, consider the following:
In 1972, Donald helped his father negotiate the purchase of 20% interest in Starrett City, a new development that was designed to be racially integrated to include 30% minorities.
In 1973, Donald Trump donated an ad in a publication of the Congress of Racial Equality, and apparently also in 1974.
October 16, 1973, newspapers quoted Donald Trump contesting the lawsuit as “absolutely ridiculous. We never have discriminated, and we never would. There have been a number of local actions against us, and we’ve won them all. We were charged with discrimination, and we proved in court that we did not discriminate.” (pp.5-6 here)
December 1973, Donald Trump stated: “I have always tried to see to it that buildings which we own and manage are well run and that there is equal opportunity for anyone to rent apartments. …. Our organization has never discriminated and does not now discriminate.”
Also in December 1973, at a news conference at the New York Hilton Hotel, reported in the New York Times, Donald Trump stated that “I have never, nor has anyone in my organization ever, to the best of my knowledge, discriminated or shown bias in renting of our apartments.”
On May 1974, Trump Management supplied a list of its “Black and Puerto Rican employees,” consisting of 114 individuals (without even including Thomas Miranda). It’s significant to mention this, if only to note that the company did hire minorities. (pp. 69 and 127 here)
In 1975, the civil lawsuit against Trump Management ended without a trial. Instead, Fred and Donald agreed with the Department of Justice to several terms that sought to enact affirmative action to provide more housing for minorities and to prevent discrimination from happening at the properties they managed.
None of this suggests that Trump was a civil rights leader, he wasn’t.
But it shows that he did not oppose the civil rights movement, as claimed by Kristof.
On June 11, 1975, the New York Times ran a news article titled: “Trump Promises to End Race Bias.” It stated that “Trump promised not to discriminate against blacks, Puerto Ricans, and other minorities.” Still, it stated that Trump (no first name stated) denied the charges, creating an apparent inconsistency: how could they end a “Race Bias” policy if it didn’t exist?
The following day the New York Times printed two “Corrections”: both stating that the headline in yesterday’s newspaper “erroneously” stated that the Trump Management Corporation had promised to end racial discrimination in renting. Both corrections stated that “Trump denies it ever practiced such discrimination,” etc.
Anyhow, the Times reporters noted that Trump would now provide weekly lists of vacancies to the New York Urban League so that qualified minority applicants could apply for every fifth vacancy “in Trump buildings where blacks currently occupy fewer than 10 percent of the apartments.”
In any case, the Director of the Urban League’s Open Housing Center said that the Trump affirmative action agreement “looks very good.” Donald Trump too said that the agreement was to his company’s “full satisfaction.”
In his autobiographical book, The Art of the Deal, Donald Trump recalled (and shrugged off) the government lawsuit of 1973-1975, saying: “we fought the charges. In the end the government couldn’t prove its case, and we ended up making a minor settlement without admitting any guilt. Instead, we agreed to do some equal-opportunity advertising of vacancies for a period of time in the local newspaper. And that was the end of the suit.”
When Trump and his father were negotiating the terms of the Decree, Fred Trump repeatedly objected to the suggestion that his firm should include statements of “equal housing opportunity” in their ads, arguing that other realty businesses did not do it. At one point in the discussion with attorney Goldstein and the District Judge, Fred even complained (p.43): “We would be the laughing stock of the industry if we were the only ones that had — [such ads].” However, Goldstein retorted: “I don’t think the defendants are in a position to say they will be the laughing stock of the industry.” The judge agreed, saying instead: “You might be commended.”
Hence, in the late 1970s, Trump Management advertised many properties with the statement “EQUAL HOUSING OPPORTUNITY.” They had agreed to do so as part of their affirmative action Decree with the government. Hence, thousands of minorities who scanned the classifieds section in the New York Times, looking for housing, saw these words in nearly no rental ads, except in those operated by a very few companies, such as Trump Management.
The ads advertised apartments mainly in Brooklyn and Queens, including these 23 building complexes: the Briar Wyck Apartments, Kendall Hall, Shorehaven, Westminster Hall, Lincoln Shores Apts., Lawrence Gardens, Highlander Hall, Wedgewood Hall, Sea Isle Apts., Coronet Hall, Grymes Hill Apts., Tysens Park Apts., Wilshire Hall, Southampton, Nautilus, The Argyle, Ocean Terrace, Sunnyside Towers, Lawrence Towers, Sussex Hall, The Fiesta, Green Park Sussex, and Belcrest Hall. The ads offered: “Luxury Apartments” which was an exaggeration in most cases. But most of these ads also said: “No Rental Fee,” which helped lower-income renters.
Back in the 1970s, the line about “Equal Housing Opportunity” was a rarity. For example, the December 26, 1976 issue of the New York Times includes a page W11 that lists more than 300 rental ads, with hundreds of properties. But only four ads include a line about “Equal Housing” —including one by Trump Management.
Similarly, Trump Management placed monthly rental ads in The Amsterdam News, a newspaper focused on African American readers, and El Diario, a newspaper aimed at Spanish speaking and Hispanic readers.
Such ads were not bragging points. They did not even include the name “Trump.” Back then the family company was not about branding. So even before the Decree, they simply advertised as “Owner Management.” At least the line about “equal housing opportunity” served a good purpose in the slow march of civil rights.
Right after Kristof’s thoroughly misleading op-ed was published in the New York Times in 2016, and it was read and shared with horror by thousands of readers (who rightly despise racism), Kristof noted that he had been contacted by Trump’s campaign. He wrote: (Update: After this column was published, the Trump campaign emailed me the following statement: “Donald Trump has a lifetime record of inclusion and has publicly rebuked groups who seek to discriminate against others on numerous occasions. To suggest otherwise is a complete fabrication of the truth.”)
Unfortunately, that brief campaign statement does not alert the readers of the grotesque degree to which Kristof’s op-ed misrepresented the facts.
Alberto A. Martinez is a professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin.
Next, Chapter 19: Fred Trump and the KKK