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Archie Green

The Making of a Working-Class Hero

Sean Burns

Publication Year: 2011

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 Green's 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.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

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. ...

List of Illustrations

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pp. xi-xii

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xiii-xiv

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Introduction: Worker, Scholar, and Organizer

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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 ...

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Part 1. Of Shreds and Patches: Early Political Formation

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, ...

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Chapter 1. Family, Revolution, and Emigration

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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, ...

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Chapter 2. Boyle Heights in the 1920s

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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. ...

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Chapter 3. Student Politics and Labor in the Thirties

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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 ...

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Part 2. Triangle of Commitments: San Francisco Maritime Politics of the Thirties

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, ...

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Chapter 4. From Berkeley Stacks to Stake-Side Trucks

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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 ...

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Chapter 5. “Brother Slugging Brother”: Sailors, Longshoremen, and Legacies of the ’34 Strike

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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, ...

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Chapter 6. Harry Bridges and Reconsiderations of Communist Party History

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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. ...

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Chapter 7. Union Service and Organizing World War II Veterans

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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. ...

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Part 3. A Decent Philosophy: Culture, Politics and the American Folk Revivalism

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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. ...

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Chapter 8. Folk Music and the American Communist Party

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pp. 75-86

In the November 21, 1933, edition of the Daily 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 ...

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Chapter 9. Moments in the Making of a Laborlorist

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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?” ...

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Chapter 10. Vernacular Music and Cultural Pluralism

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pp. 93-102

When New York Times cultural 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. ...

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Part 4. “Always on Stolen Time”: Folklore, Labor History, and Cultural Studies

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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 ...

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Chapter 11. Alternative Popular Front Imaginary

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pp. 107-117

In the late 1950s, while still a union carpenter in San Francisco, Archie Green coined the term laborlore to 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. ...

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Chapter 12. New Labor History and American Cultural Studies

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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. ...

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Chapter 13. Laborlore: A Pedagogy of the Working Class

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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 ...

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Epilogue: A Conversation with Archie

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pp. 137-148

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. …


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pp. 149-150


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pp. 151-172


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pp. 173-182


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pp. 183-190

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About the Author, Back Cover

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Sean Burns (www.seanburns.net) is a teacher, musician, and gardener. Since graduating from Georgetown University in 1995 he has taught a wide range of humanities and social science courses at both the high school and university level. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780252093630
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252078286

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2011

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Green, Archie.
  • Folklorists -- United States -- Biography.
  • Working class -- United States -- Folklore.
  • Labor unions -- United States -- Folklore.
  • Folklore -- United States.
  • United States -- Social life and customs.
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