The Fascinating History of ‘This Land Is Your Land’

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“This Land Is Your Land” is one of those songs I’ve always known. I’m just familiar with the chorus, though:

This land is your land This land is my land
From California to the New York island;
From the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

It turns out there’s much more to this childhood favorite. Woody Guthrie wrote the lyrics while staying in a fleabag hotel in New York. Like most great art, the song has its roots in Guthrie’s life experiences.

He grew up in Oklahoma and was sent to Texas after the death of his mother. The dust storms hit, and he, like many, migrated to California in hopes of a better life. According to his daughter, he continued to wander throughout his life, never having a real sense of home.

“This Land Is Your Land” was originally titled “God Blessed America,” and it was, in part, a reaction to the original “God Bless America.” “God Bless America,” as recorded by Kate Smith, was being played constantly throughout the 1930s, to Guthrie’s irritation. He didn’t feel like it reflected the America he saw.

He was seeing people struggling with hunger and scraping by, and his original version included verses that are often left out today:

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me.
The sign was painted, said ‘Private Property.’
But on the backside, it didn’t say nothing.
This land was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

The song never received radio play. Instead, it was a staple in school music texts, and children learned it as an innocent, patriotic song.

Since then, its original spirit has been reclaimed by several artists. It was performed frequently by Pete Seeger, who also sang it at President Obama’s first inauguration with Bruce Springsteen. Lady Gaga even covered the song at the Super Bowl.

What do you think? Is “This Land Is Your Land” America’s alternative national anthem?