nytimes.com ‘No Vacancies’ for Blacks: How Donald Trump Got His Start, and Was First Accused of Bias Jonathan Mahler and Steve Eder In 1966, as the investigative journalist Wayne Barrett detailed in “Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth,” a New York legislative committee accused Fred Trump of using state money earmarked for middle-income housing to build a shopping center instead. One lawmaker called Mr. Trump “greedy and grasping.” By this point, the Trump organization’s business practices were beginning to come under scrutiny from civil rights groups that had received complaints from prospective African-American tenants. People like Maxine Brown. Mr. Leibowitz, the rental agent at the Wilshire, remembered Ms. Brown repeatedly inquiring about the apartment. “Finally, she realized what it was all about,” he said. Ms. Brown’s first instinct was to let the matter go; she was happy enough at the Y.W.C.A. “I had a big room and two meals a day for five dollars a week,” she said in an interview. But a friend, Mae Wiggins, who had also been denied an apartment at the Wilshire, told her that she ought to have her own place, with a private bathroom and a kitchen. She encouraged Ms. Brown to file a complaint with the New York City Commission on Human Rights, as she was doing. “We knew there was prejudice in renting,” Ms. Wiggins recalled. “It was rampant in New York. It made me feel really bad, and I wanted to do something to right the wrong.” Applying for Housing at a Trump Property in the '60s In the 1960s, Mae Wiggins and her friend Maxine Brown applied for housing at the Wilshire Apartments in the Jamaica Estates neighborhood of Queens, N.Y. Ms. Wiggins recalled her experience. By NATALIA V. OSIPOVA on August 27, 2016. Photo by Justin T. Gellerson for The New York Times. Watch in Times Video » Mr. Leibowitz was called to testify at the commission’s hearing on Ms. Brown’s case. Asked to estimate how many blacks lived in Mr. Trump’s various properties, he remembered replying: “To the best of my knowledge, none.” After the hearing, Ms. Brown was offered an apartment in the Wilshire, and in the spring of 1964, she moved in. For 10 years, she said, she was the only African-American in the building. Complaints about the Trump organization’s rental policies continued to mount: By 1967, state investigators found that out of some 3,700 apartments in Trump Village, seven were occupied by African-American families. Like Ms. Brown, the few minorities who did live in Trump-owned buildings often had to force their way in. A black woman named Agnes Bunn recalled hearing in early 1970 about a vacant Trump apartment in another part of Queens, from a white friend who lived in the building. But when she went by, she was told there were no vacancies. “The super came out and stood there until I left the property,” Ms. Bunn said. Ms. Bunn testified about the experience at a meeting with the New York City Commission on Human Rights in 1970. According to a summary, recovered from the New York City Municipal Archives, she told a Trump lawyer that it was known that no “colored” people were wanted as tenants in the building. The lawyer concluded that the episode was “all a misunderstanding.” Ms. Bunn and her husband, a Manhattan accountant, soon became the building’s first black tenants. Unlike the public schools, the housing market could not be desegregated simply by court order. Even after passage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which prohibited racial discrimination in housing, developments in white neighborhoods continued to rebuff blacks. For years, it fell largely to local civil rights groups to highlight the problem by sending white “testers” into apartment complexes after blacks had been turned away. “Everything was sort of whispers and innuendo and you wanted to try to bring it out into the open,” recalled Phyllis Kirschenbaum, who volunteered for Operation Open City, a housing rights advocacy organization. “I’d walk in with my freckles and red hair and Jewish name and get an apartment immediately.” The complaints of discrimination were not limited to New York. In 1969, a young black couple, Haywood and Rennell Cash, sued after being denied a home in Cincinnati at one of the first projects in which Donald Trump, fresh out of college, played an active role. Mr. Cash was repeatedly rejected by the Trumps’ rental agent, according to court records and notes kept by Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Cincinnati, which sent in white testers posing as a young couple while Mr. Cash waited in the car. After the agent, Irving Wolper, offered the testers an apartment, they brought in Mr. Cash. Mr. Wolper grew furious, shoving them out of the office and calling the young female tester, Maggie Durham, a “Reggie-lover,” according to court records. “To this day I have not forgotten the fury in his voice and in his face,” Ms. Durham recalled recently, adding that she also remembered him calling her a “traitor to the race.” The Cashes were ultimately offered an apartment. At a campaign stop in Ohio recently, Mr. Trump shared warm memories of his time in Cincinnati, calling it one of the early successes of his career. And in “The Art of the Deal,” he praised Mr. Wolper, without using his surname, calling him a “fabulous man” and “an amazing manager.” “Irving was a classic,” Mr. Trump wrote. The young Mr. Trump also spent time in Norfolk, helping manage the housing complexes his father built there in the 1940s. Similar complaints of discrimination surfaced at those properties beginning in the mid-1960s, and were documented by Ellis James, an equal housing activist. “The managers on site were usually not very sophisticated,” Mr. James, now 78, recalled. “Some were dedicated segregationists, but most of them were more concerned with following the policies they were directed to keep.” Battling the Government Donald Trump said he had first heard about the lawsuit, which was filed in the fall of 1973, on his car radio. The government had charged him, his father and their company, Trump Management Inc., with violating the Fair Housing Act. Another major New York developer, the LeFrak Organization, had been hit with a similar suit a few years earlier. Its founder, Samuel LeFrak, had appeared at a news conference alongside the United States attorney, trumpeting a consent agreement to prohibit discrimination in his buildings by saying it would “make open housing in our cities a reality.” The LeFrak company even offered the equivalent of one month’s rent to help 50 black families move into predominantly white buildings. Donald Trump took a different approach. He retained Senator Joseph McCarthy’s red-baiting counsel, Roy Cohn, to defend him. Mr. Trump soon called his own news conference — to announce his countersuit against the government. The government’s lawyers took as their starting point the years of research conducted by civil rights groups at Trump properties. The Wilshire Apartments complex in Queens, once owned by the Trump family. George Etheredge/The New York Times “We did our own investigation and enlarged the case,” said Elyse Goldweber, who as a young assistant United States attorney worked on the lawsuit, U.S.A. v. Trump. A former Trump superintendent named Thomas Miranda testified that multiple Trump Management employees had instructed him to attach a separate piece of paper with a big letter “C” on it — for “colored” — to any application filed by a black apartment-seeker. The Trumps went on the offensive, filing a contempt-of-court charge against one of the prosecutors, accusing her of turning the investigation into a “Gestapo-like interrogation.” The Trumps derided the lawsuit as a pressure tactic to get them to sign a consent decree like the one agreed to by Mr. LeFrak. The judge dismissed both the countersuit and the contempt-of-court charge. After nearly two years of legal wrangling, the Trumps gave up and signed a consent decree. As is customary, it did not include an admission of guilt. But it did include pages of stipulations intended to ensure the desegregation of Trump properties. Equal housing activists celebrated the agreement as more robust than the one signed by Mr. LeFrak. It required that Trump Management provide the New York Urban League with a weekly list of all its vacancies. This did not stop Mr. Trump from declaring victory. “In the end the government couldn’t prove its case, and we ended up making a minor settlement without admitting any guilt,” he wrote in “The Art of the Deal.” Only this was not quite the end.