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Archie Green

Archie Green Image
Archie Green wearing his Living Legend Award. Photo by Derek Green, August, 2007.

June 29, 1917 – March 22, 2009

With great sorrow, the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress (AFC) reports the death of Archie Green.  Dr. Green, North America’s most prominent scholar of labor-related folklore, has been an essential guiding force in the history of AFC.  It was largely through his efforts that the Center was created.  From 1969 to 1976, Green put his academic career on hold, to live in Washington, D.C. and lobby Congress for the passage of the American Folklife Preservation Act.  This act, which created the AFC, was passed unanimously by Congress and signed by President Ford in 1976.  Green combined his sensitivity for working people with an abiding concern for democratic processes and a willingness to lobby for reforms.  He was pragmatic and workmanlike, able to size up a job, break it into steps, roll up his sleeves, and get it done. All of these qualities, combined in one energetic advocate, made the American Folklife Center possible.

During his lobbying years, Green kept a brass plaque over the door of his office, marked “Citizens’ Committee for an American Folklife Center.”  In February, 2009, he donated the plaque to the AFC, and it is now proudly displayed in the Center’s main office.  “Archie's key role in the establishment of the American Folklife Center makes him a cherished hero to all of us,” said the Center’s director, Peggy Bulger. 

Born Aaron Green, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1917, Archie moved with his parents to Los Angeles, California, in 1922. He grew up in southern California, began college at UCLA, and transferred to the University of California at Berkeley, where he received a bachelor's degree in political science in 1939. He signed up for the Civilian Conservation Corps, and spent a year in a camp on the Klamath River, where he was a road builder and a firefighter.  When his term of service was up, he returned to work in the San Francisco shipyards as a shipwright, and then served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.  Returning once again to San Francisco after the war, he learned the carpentry trade and became a member of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, to which he belonged for over sixty-seven years; he was also a Journeyman Shipwright.

Green enrolled in graduate school in 1958, earning a Master of Library Science degree from the University of Illinois in 1960, and a Ph.D. in folklore from the University of Pennsylvania in 1968.  He went on to a distinguished teaching career, during which he influenced many future leaders of the discipline of folklore and folklife. He taught at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, (1960-1972), and at the University of Texas at Austin, (1975-1982).  He earned teaching fellowships at several other institutions, including the Bingham Humanities Professorship at the University of Louisville in 1977, and a Woodrow Wilson Center fellowship in Washington, D.C., in 1978.

As a scholar, Green was best known for his work on occupational folklore and on early hillbilly music recordings. He combined his support for labor and his love of country music in the research that became his first book, Only a Miner (1972). He went on to write many other books: a collection of essays on laborlore (Wobblies, Pile Butts, and Other Heroes, 1993); a work on the stories of laborers (Calf’s Head & Union Tale, 1996); a collection of essays on folklore (“Torching the Fink Books” and other Essays on Vernacular Culture, 2001);  a description and analysis of  tinsmiths' art, using examples from around the country (Tin Men, 2002); a monograph on millwrights in northern California over the twentieth century (Millwrights in Northern California 1901-2002, 2003); and a collection of essays on the traditional lore of the Sailor's Union of the Pacific (Harry Lundeberg’s Stetson and Other Nautical Treasures, 2006).  In addition to these books, Green published articles in Appalachian Journal, the Journal of American Folklore, Labor's Heritage, Musical Quarterly, and other periodicals and anthologies. 

Green’s most recent publication is The Big Red Songbook (2007), featuring the lyrics to the 190 songs included in the various editions of the Industrial Workers of the World's (IWW) Little Red Songbooks from 1909 to 1973. Green inherited this project from John Neuhaus, a machinist and IWW member who devoted years to collecting a nearly complete set of the IWW songbooks and determining what music the songs had been set to. When Neuhaus died of cancer in 1958, he gave his unique collection of songbooks, sheet music and other materials to Green, who vowed to carry on Neuhaus's vision of a complete edition of IWW songs.

Green was a founding and seminal figure in what is now known as public folklore.  As a senior staff associate at the AFL-CIO Labor Studies Center in the early 1970s, he initiated programs presenting workers' traditions at the Smithsonian Institution's Festival of American Folklife on the National Mall.  From 1969 to 1976, he lobbied Congress for the establishment of the American Folklife Center.  He was a founding member of the Fund For Folk Culture, an organization which supported folklife through research, grants, and publications for over seventeen years.  In 1995, Green was awarded the Benjamin A. Botkin Prize for outstanding achievement in public folklore by the American Folklore Society.

Green also served as secretary of the nonprofit Fund for Labor Culture & History. Founded in July 2000, the Fund has spearheaded several initiatives related to laborlore.  For example, it has worked with the National Trust for Historic Preservation to identify labor landmarks in San Francisco and install commemorative plaques; supported the publication of books on roots music, labor songs and historic labor landmarks; prepared guides to films on skilled union craftsmen; and helped the United Mine Workers restore the Ludlow Monument in Colorado. 

The Fund also sponsored a series of small conferences called “Laborlore Conversations,” which brought together activists, trade unionists, scholars, and artists to discuss their various perspectives on workers’ culture.  The fourth of these conferences was sponsored by AFC and held at the Library of Congress on August 15-16, 2007.  Green was unable to attend, but as part of the proceedings, he was awarded a Living Legend Award by the Librarian of Congress, and honored in a special statement by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi.

Green established an archive for his collected materials in the Southern Folklife Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he also deposited Neuhaus's original materials relating to the IWW.  Green has also made contributions to AFC collections, including several reels of labor songs, recordings of his appearances at colloquia and symposia, and a series of interviews about his life and work conducted by AFC folklorist David Taylor.
Archie Green died on March 22, 2009.  He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Louanne; three children, Derek, David, and Debra; several grandchildren; and countless students, friends, and admirers

Links to Resources and Honors Related to the Life of Archie Green:


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   September 26, 2018
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