Archie Green

Archie Green: The Making of a Working-Class Hero

Sean Burns
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 232
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/j.ctt1xcmhc
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  • Book Info
    Archie Green
    Book Description:

    Archie Green: The Making of a Working-Class Hero celebrates one of the most revered folklorists and labor historians of the twentieth century. Devoted to understanding the diverse cultural customs of working people, Archie Green (1917-2009) tirelessly documented these traditions and educated the public about the place of workers' culture and music in American life. Doggedly lobbying Congress for support of the American Folklife Preservation Act of 1976, Green helped establish the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. This significant national center for folklife preservation has undertaken a variety of projects including concert series, recordings, oral histories, and the Archive of Folk Culture, a vast collection of images, recordings, and written accounts that preserve the myriad cultural productions of Americans._x000B__x000B_Capturing the many dimensions of Green's remarkably influential life and work, Sean Burns draws on extensive interviews with Green and his many collaborators to examine the intersections of radicalism, folklore, labor history, and worker culture with Greens work. Burns closely analyzes Green's political genealogy and activist trajectory while illustrating how he worked to open up an independent political space on the American Left that was defined by an unwavering commitment to cultural pluralism. This book includes a foreword by historian David Roediger and a final interview with Green, conducted by folklorist and media commentator Nick Spitzer.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09363-0
    Subjects: Political Science, History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-x)
    David Roediger

    My strongest memory of Archie Green has him holding on to a hug, not letting go. The occasion was an event organized to honor and study the memory of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union (STFU) at University of Missouri during the 1980s. The academic talks, and a rollicking, reflective one by Archie, were punctuated by performances from the great African American socialist songwriter, poet, and singer John Handcox, who had memorialized STFU struggles in “Roll the Union On” and “The Planter and the Sharecropper” in the thirties. When the session had just ended, Archie and John found each other near...

  4. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. INTRODUCTION: Worker, Scholar, and Organizer
    (pp. xv-xxvi)

    “A working class hero is something to be,” howls John Lennon in his famous post-Beatles polemic against authoritarianism of every kind.¹ As hard as it is to imagine today, there was a time, really not that long ago, when a generation of young people in the United States shared Lennon’s conviction—a time when the social idea of “the worker,” which is to say the coal miner, the builder, the mechanic, the longshoreman, conjured up pride, skill, accomplishment, even heroism. It was a time when broad currents of society began to associate manual work with social possibility and cultural significance....

  7. Part 1. Of Shreds and Patches:: Early Political Formation
    • [Part 1. Introduction]
      (pp. 1-2)

      Archie Green was a lifelong student of stories. As a folklorist, he exercised an exceptional capacity for tracking how stories lay claim upon people and how people turn to stories and adapt them to make sense of their lives and world. During the four years that I recorded Green telling his own history, I considered how a lifetime spent collecting others’ stories would influence the manner in which he told his own. His long-time friend and editor Judith McCulloh emphasizes that when Green wanted to understand something he would work hard to place it in the largest context possible. Observations...

    • Chapter 1 Family, Revolution, and Emigration
      (pp. 3-7)

      Archie Green was born on June 29, 1917, in Winnipeg, Canada. When he was six years old, Samuel and Rose Green “bundled up” young Archie along with his two sisters and got on a train, leaving “snowy Canada for sunny California.”¹ Family lore holds that Rose disliked the severe Winnipeg winters, but Archie suspected that the post–World War I recession also contributed to the relocation.² The continental excursion marked a definitive rupture in his early life. Green insisted that he had no conscious memories of life in Winnipeg but perhaps the “train ride might have been such a cutting...

    • Chapter 2 Boyle Heights in the 1920s
      (pp. 8-15)

      If being uprooted to California severed Archie Green from his earliest sources of memory, his family’s arrival in the East Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights vividly marked the beginning of a new life. Boyle Heights in the 1920s was a diverse, working-class neighborhood that attracted immigrants from all over the world. It is illuminating to situate Green’s many stories about adolescence in Boyle Heights against the backdrop of George Sanchez’s seminal essay “What’s Good for Boyle Heights Is Good for the Jews” (2004).¹ Sanchez focuses on the decline in Boyle Heights’s ethnic diversity in the 1950s, but his argument...

    • Chapter 3 Student Politics and Labor in the Thirties
      (pp. 16-26)

      The San Francisco General Strike of 1934 reverberated throughout the U.S. labor movement. It was the most significant confrontation between labor and capital on the West Coast since the 1916 Mooney-Billings case. Despite the scale of the strike—a strike that would become of significant political interest to Green—he did not learn of it while in his junior year of high school. Boyle Heights was too far removed from San Pedro, the southern California port where longshoremen had joined the work stoppage. There were, however, two significant experiences in 1934 that were important to Green’s developing political sensibility. The...

  8. Part 2. Triangle of Commitments:: San Francisco Maritime Politics of the Thirties
    • [Part 2. Introduction]
      (pp. 27-28)

      In her essential political memoir on the American left in the twentieth century, Grace Lee Boggs describes her ambivalence when first introduced to the Workers Party. “It was a strange and bewildering experience,” she writes about the 1942 party convention, “to be in a hall on the Lower East Side of New York City with several hundred people, most of whom seemed to be Jewish and all of whom seemed to know each other. People were caucusing all over the place. The main bone of contention was the nature of the Soviet Union or what was called the ‘Russian Question.’”...

    • Chapter 4 From Berkeley Stacks to Stake-Side Trucks
      (pp. 29-38)

      In the early 1940s, with concerns rising about U.S. entry into World War II, some sectors of the Marxist left encouraged young men to move to industrial centers, take up shop-floor jobs, and help organize the rank and file. Internal bulletins of the Socialist Workers Party and Workers Party, for example, encouraged young Trotskyists to see that “the place for the party is in the front ranks of the revolutionary struggle against the war. Every party member must find his place in the mass movement. The party must be deeply rooted in the ranks of its class.”¹ Bill Friedland, a...

    • Chapter 5 “Brother Slugging Brother”: Sailors, Longshoremen, and Legacies of the ’34 Strike
      (pp. 39-48)

      Young workers who arrived in the Bay Area in the early forties to labor in the expanding maritime industries encountered a highly politicized generation of veteran waterfront workers that have come to be known as the “thirty-four men.” In the wake of the Depression, and emboldened by the 1933 shift in federal government policy supporting union representation, workers across the country organized for union recognition, higher wages, and greater shop-floor control. This 1934 surge of activism produced general strikes in Toledo, Minneapolis, and San Francisco. In turn, these strikes catalyzed an era of worker militancy, the age of the CIO,...

    • Chapter 6 Harry Bridges and Reconsiderations of Communist Party History
      (pp. 49-55)

      Americans are well aware of the tradition of demonizing the Soviet Union and the Communist Party that liberal, conservative, and reactionary forces promulgated through much of the twentieth century. The famous faces of this history are Richard Nixon, Joseph McCarthy, and Ronald Reagan. Much less known is the history of critiquing the Soviet Union and the Communist International rooted in left politics, whether socialist, Marxist-Leninist, or anarchist. This left tradition of critique is far from homogenous and is referred to in various ways. My preferred reference is “left anticommunism.”¹ One genealogy of left anticommunism can be traced to the Trotsky-associated...

    • Chapter 7 Union Service and Organizing World War II Veterans
      (pp. 56-68)

      The United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America (UBCJA) dates back to the late nineteenth century. Instrumental in the founding of the AFL, the Brotherhood historically represented unwavering commitment to craft unionism as well as, for generations, the deeply racist culture that often accompanied such pride. On one hand, carpenters vitally contributed to the struggle for the eight-hour workday and helped sustain the AFL through its early embattled years. On the other, locals such as San Francisco’s 22 enthusiastically supported successive Chinese Exclusion Acts.¹ David Roediger and Alexander Saxton offer critical, historical frameworks for seeing such histories as fundamentally...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
  9. Part 3. A Decent Philosophy:: Culture, Politics, and American Folk Revivalism
    • [Part 3. Introduction]
      (pp. 69-74)

      On June 20, 1956, Green wrote his first letter to Pete Seeger. For more than ten years Green had been seriously collecting early hillbilly and “race records” (folk and blues), and he requested specific information about the origin of several songs Seeger had recorded. His interest in discography growing, Green wrote hundreds of such letters in the 1950s and 1960s to musicians, record executives, scholars, and collectors. And they replied—effusively. That is what the few dozen die-hard enthusiasts of early-recorded American music did; they corresponded constantly in search of song variations and historical clues to the meaning of lyrics...

    • Chapter 8 Folk Music and the American Communist Party
      (pp. 75-86)

      In the November 21, 1933, edition of theDaily Worker, Henry Cowell argued, “One of the great faults in the field of workers music has been that of combining revolutionary lyrics with traditional music—music which can by no means be termed revolutionary.”¹ Cowell, a respected modernist composer, was a leading member of the recently formed Composers Collective—a branch of the Pierre Degeyter Club that was affiliated with the Communist Workers Music League. Made up of a couple of dozen composers and music critics, the Composers Collective included notable cultural figures such as Aaron Copland, Earl Robinson, Elie Siegmiester,...

    • Chapter 9 Moments in the Making of a Laborlorist
      (pp. 87-92)

      In the forties and fifties, when rainy San Francisco days cancelled work at building sites, Green frequently headed for a library. One day, when it was sunny, he asked his foreman whether he could have the day off to go to Stanford University for a meeting. The foreman asked, “What kind of meeting?” “The Modern Language Association,” Green replied. Part amused, part baffled, the foreman approved the trip. Green wanted to hear a presentation on William Faulkner and meet Charles Seeger, the well-known ethnomusicologist who was keynoting the conference. A few years later, still a carpenter, Green traveled to Santa...

    • Chapter 10 Vernacular Music and Cultural Pluralism
      (pp. 93-102)

      WhenNew York Timescultural critic Robert Shelton attended the 1961 Chicago Folk Festival, he observed tensions over what focus, form, and future the festival should pursue. “Some questions remain unresolved around the festival’s future direction,” he wrote in his review of the gathering. “Should, as Archie Green, University of Illinois folklorist, suggested, the program stress the Chicago tradition of the industrial city, of immigrant songs, the labor movement and other indigenous heritages? Should it, as the delegation of thirty from the University of Michigan feels, put less emphasis on history and more on the ‘here and now’ of folk...

  10. Part 4. “Always on Stolen Time”:: Folklore, Labor History, and Cultural Studies
    • [Part 4. Introduction]
      (pp. 103-106)

      In 1967 the Smithsonian sponsored its first American Folklife Festival on the expansive public green of the National Mall. The brainchild of folk music field collector and performer Ralph Rinzler, the festival reflected how a new generation of folklorists was reconceptualizing the academic discipline in relation to the public sector.¹ Rinzler, who had worked for the Newport Folk Festival, “effectively lobbied S. Dillon Ripley, the secretary of the Smithsonian, to take traditional artifacts out of their cases and reveal the people and the cultural dynamism that lay behind the static dioramas and exhibits.”² Showcasing craft demonstration, decorative art, traditional music...

    • Chapter 11 Alternative Popular Front Imaginary
      (pp. 107-117)

      In the late 1950s, while still a union carpenter in San Francisco, Archie Green coined the termlaborloreto refer to a broad range of culturally expressive practices within trade unions, among them clothing styles, songs, shop-floor stories and jokes, posters, work rituals, and strike chants. Over the next twenty years he expanded that definition to more broadly include the work traditions and cultural practices of all workers.¹ A concept he initially used only in personal correspondences,laborlorefirst appears publicly in print in Green’s 1960 tribute to his close friend and mentor John Neuhaus, the San Francisco machinist and...

    • Chapter 12 New Labor History and American Cultural Studies
      (pp. 118-127)

      In 1959, when Bernard Karsh recruited Green for a job in the Labor and Industrial Relations Library at the University of Illinois, it was on the strength of his knowledge of labor history and worker culture. Once in Urbana, Green efficiently handled his library duties and devoted much energy and time to directing the hugely popular Student Folksong Club. This combination of employment and personal interest gave Green, for the first half of the sixties, a unique platform from which to conduct research into the connection between labor song and labor history. During school breaks he would frequently join other...

    • Chapter 13 Laborlore: A Pedagogy of the Working Class
      (pp. 128-136)

      We have seen that during the age of the CIO, when Green’s political convictions were formed, he was attracted to both the revolutionary tradition of anarcho-syndicalism and the pragmatic, reformist agenda of New Deal liberalism. There are significant and irreconcilable differences between these social visions but both provided room and resource for Green’s multifaceted laborlore project. Whether expressed through his books, public history projects, or federal legislation, laborlore grows from a principled respect for working people. Green assiduously collected, presented, and interpreted workers’ culture because he believed that honoring workers is essential to building a democratic, pluralist society. Grounded in...

  11. EPILOGUE: A Conversation with Archie
    (pp. 137-148)
    Nick Spitzer

    I first became aware of Archie Green’s work in folk music at the University of Pennsylvania’s college radio station WXPN in Philadelphia in 1970. I was enthralled by his liner notes on a RCA Carter Family LP collection from 78s,‘Mid the Green Fields of Virginia. Archie’s mix of populism, aesthetic appreciation, and cultural history of the iconic Anglo-Southern music ensemble helped me first understand the value of vernacular arts, humanities, and diversity in American society. His vision of pluralistic democracy embedded in the expression of folk communities encouraged readers and listeners to step beyond their own culture—to appreciate...

  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 149-150)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 151-172)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 173-182)
  15. Index
    (pp. 183-190)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 191-194)