The Library of Congress recently honored labor folklorist and American Folklife Center founding father Archie Green with its Living Legend award. Deanna Marcum, Associate Librarian for Library Services, announced the award at a special concert held at the Library in Green’s honor on Aug. 16. Accepting on Green’s behalf was his son, Derek.
The Library’s Living Legend award recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to America’s diverse cultural, scientific and social heritage. The first awards were given seven years ago in connection with the Library’s Bicentennial celebration, to honor Americans whose creative contributions to American life have made them living legends.
Green has devoted his life to the study and celebration of ordinary people and the texture and meaning of their lives as expressed in song, story, custom, belief, ritual and craft. He became a shipwright’s apprentice in the Bay Area in the 1930s. After serving as a carpenter’s mate in the Navy during World War II, he returned to San Francisco to become involved in veterans’ affairs and to work in the building trades for another 15 years. Along the way he listened, observed and talked with people he met about their working lives and traditions. His passionate interest in “laborlore”—a term he coined—sparked an interest in research and writing that eventually took him down a scholarly path. He earned a doctorate in folklore, became a university professor and wrote seminal books and articles about grassroots culture and the folk traditions of work.
Believing that the federal government had a vital role to play in documenting, supporting, revitalizing and disseminating America’s grassroots knowledge and arts, Green envisioned a national center that would preserve and present American folklife. He then spent 10 years lobbying Congress. His efforts prevailed, and on Jan. 2, 1976, President Gerald R. Ford signed into law the American Folklife Preservation Act, PL 94-201, which was passed unanimously by both houses of Congress, establishing an American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.