The Library of Congress honored labor folklorist and American Folklife Center founding father Archie Green with its Living Legend medal at a special evening concert on Aug. 16. Accepting on his behalf was his son, Derek Green.
The Library’s Living Legend award is given to recognize 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.
Other recipients of the award include artists, writers, filmmakers, physicians, entertainers, sports figures, public servants and musicians—among them Madeleine Albright, Katharine Graham, B.B. King, John Werner Kluge, Alan Lomax, I.M Pei, Sally Ride, Martin Scorcese, Pete Seeger and Tiger Woods.
“Archie Green has devoted his life to studying the creativity of ordinary, working Americans, and he was also one of the most significant figures behind the formation of the Library’s American Folklife Center,” said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. “For these contributions we are delighted to bestow the Living Legend Award on Archie Green.”
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.
The American Folklife Center preserves and presents American folklife through programs of research, documentation, archival preservation, reference service, live performance, exhibition, public programs and training. The center includes an archive of folk culture, which was established in the Library in 1928 and is now one of the largest collections of ethnographic material from the United States and around the world. For more information on the center and it’s programs and initiatives, visit www.loc.gov/folklife/