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  • Archie Green (1917–2009)
  • John Michael Vlach

A man of many accomplishments, Archie Green will be best remembered for his personal campaign to encourage government investment in America’s folk communities. He imagined a national agency that would both foster and support traditional cultural practices—an institution that would parallel the existing endowments for the arts and the humanities. Being a strong-willed person with ample reserves of vision, he proposed the creation of a third endowment that would honor art forms and practices grounded in community and vernacular identity. His quest to establish such an agency began in 1969, when a bill that he had outlined, which was entitled “The American Folklife Foundation Act,” was introduced by Senator Ralph Yarborough of Texas. Seven years would pass before this proposed legislation would gather the number of supporters required to secure enactment. Fortunately, Green proved to be a canny negotiator. He served as a one-man lobbying committee, constantly walking the halls of the House and Senate offices, talking with members of Congress and their staff, and building a coalition that could stand up to the strong resistance mounted by fiscal conservatives who saw his proposal as an irresponsible use of public funds. Green’s efforts led to the creation of an agency that would present and preserve the wide range of expressive forms found in traditional and ethnic communities across the country. While many folklorists and allies of folklore were called upon to take part in the prolonged effort to pass the bill, Green served as the primary strategist: he determined who was the best person to meet with any given member of Congress or staffer, shaped the message for the bill’s campaigners, and suggested what lines of conversation should be emphasized. Finally, on the first working day of the nation’s bicentennial year, President Gerald R. Ford signed the American Folklife Preservation Act (P.L. 94–201) into law. Thirty-three years later we all can admire the wide-ranging achievements of the American Folklife Center, which are ultimately the consequence of Green’s belief that folklorists would make valuable public servants. In 2007, his crucial role in the creation of the Folklife Center was acknowledged by the Library of Congress when he was officially declared to be a “Living Legend.”

Such an honor could hardly have been imagined when one reviews the long span of Green’s personal history. Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1917, Aaron Green was the only son of Shmoel Cantorovich and Raisel Goosen, refugees from Ukraine. Cantorovich and Goosen had fled to Canada to escape an anti-Semitic pogrom in Chernigov, a city roughly one hundred miles north of Kiev. Traveling with forged documents, Cantorovich undertook an arduous escape and made his way north to Finland, where he was able to find passage on a ship bound for England. After a brief stay, he would next move on to Canada. He then sent for his sweetheart Raisel, and they were married in 1907. In order to fit in with his new surroundings, Cantorovich would change his family’s name to Greenstein, and after moving to Los Angeles he shortened it further to Green, which he apparently thought sounded more American. This was also the period when Aaron decided to become Archie.

Archie Green grew up in Boyle Heights, a part of Los Angeles that was marked by a rich assortment of ethnic groups. His classmates at the local public school included Japanese Americans, Mexicans Americans, and a range of Eastern European immigrants. This mixture of populations seemed to him like a reasonable and interesting social order. As a child, Green proved to be an inquisitive student, and he was particularly drawn to songs that he heard on [End Page 108] the radio. He became a faithful listener of The Blue Monday Jamboree, a show that regularly featured the cowboy singer Haywire Mac (b. Harold McClintock). As Green became an avid fan of cowboy music, his enthusiasm soon was reinforced by his discovery of John Lomax’s classic work Cowboy Songs (1910). Green was amazed that he knew most of the songs in that book because he had already heard them on the radio...


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pp. 108-112
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